Netanyahu Bribery Indictment Would Spell Headache for Casino Tycoon Packer

Posted on: December 4, 2018, 06:19h. 

Last updated on: December 4, 2018, 06:19h.

Israeli investigators’ bombshell recommendation on Sunday to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges will cause fresh embarrassment to the Australian casino mogul James Packer.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s relationship with Crown Resorts’ James Packer has been under scrutiny by Israeli investigators since late 2016. On Sunday, they said they believed they had enough evidence to charge the prime minister with bribery. (Image: Reuters)

Police believe they have enough evidence to charge Israel’s longest-serving prime minister with breach of trust, bribery, and fraud — and a small part of this relates to gifts bestowed by Crown Resorts’ Packer between 2014 and 2016 on the Netanyahu family.

Packer himself has not been accused of any crime but his name has been publicly linked to the Netanyahu investigation since late 2016.

Last year, Packer was interviewed by the Australian Federal Police agents in Australia on behalf of Israeli investigators. He reportedly told agents he and Netanyahu were friends and neighbors and he was “was happy to give him presents, many times at his request and his wife Sara’s request.”

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the two men met at a dinner party in 2014 and hit it off. Shortly afterwards, Packer bought a house next door to the Netanyahus.

The Mossad Agent Turned Hollywood Producer

The gifts Packer presented to the family included flights on his private jet, expensive cigars, and tickets to see Mariah Carey, to whom Packer was engaged at the time. He reportedly even gave concert tickets to Mossad chief Yossi Cohen. In all, the gifts amounted to around $100,000.

Packer was unlikely to have been pushing casino interests in a country that has no legal casino gaming — unless he hoped for legalization. But if Netanyahu hadn’t fixed it for his longtime friend and ally, Sheldon Adelson, he wasn’t going to do it for his arriviste Australian neighbor.

Nevertheless, in 2015, Packer stepped up his business interests in Israel’s cyber-security industry — and the dinner party where he met Netanyahu was orchestrated by Packer and Arnon Milchan — a Hollywood producer and former secret Israeli agent — with whom Packer did business, according to The Australian in 2015.

Milchan — producer of Pretty Woman, LA Confidential, The Revenant, and many other significant Hollywood movies — also showered gifts on the Netanyahus. Earlier this year, Israeli police recommended Milchan’s indictment on bribery charges.

Media Man Blows His Cool

But in 2016, the news that the then-unnamed Packer and Milchan were being scrutinized in relation to a graft investigation against Netanyahu inadvertently led to some of the most serious allegations against the prime minister.

According to Israeli police, it prompted Netanhayu’s then-media adviser, Nir Hefetz, to jump to the wrong conclusion. He assumed investigators were probing the relationship between Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm.

On Sunday, police alleged Netanyahu had supported regulatory reforms that benefited Elovitch in return for positive coverage on the media mogul’s Walla news site.

On being informed that two people were under investigation, police say Hefetz immediately sought a meeting with Elovitch and Ilan Yeshua, CEO of the Walla news site, according to The Times of Israel.

‘Destroy the Evidence’

Hefetz allegedly urged them to concoct a version of events so their stories would match if they were ever grilled by investigators. He also told them to destroy all evidence of the meeting, according to a testament by Yeshua.

Afterwards, Elovitch told Yeshua to destroy his cellphone, which contained allegedly compromising correspondence between the two men.

But Yeshua didn’t. Instead, realizing he was in above his head, he made a statement recounting every detail of the meeting to his lawyer for use as a possible future testimony.

It was a smart move. In 2017, when Yeshua was called to testify against Elovitch in a separate case related to allegations that Elovitch had defrauded investors, he handed this statement — along with his smartphone — to police.

The final decision on whether to move forward with the non-binding recommendation to charge Netanyahu for corruption will be made by Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.