In a statement late on Thursday, the police said detectives from the national fraud and serious crimes squad questioned the prime minister for “several hours” at his official residence in Jerusalem’s Balfour Street on Thursday afternoon.
Officers were reported to be interested in talking to Netanyahu about two ongoing investigations. In the first, known as case 1,000, Netanyahu and his family are suspected of accepting expensive gifts, including cigars, pink champagne and jewellery, allegedly in return for advancing the interests of several wealthy benefactors, including the Hollywood producer and media magnate Arnon Milchan.
According to reports in the Israeli media, Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been questioned recently as part of the same investigation. It is claimed he asked the then US secretary of state John Kerry, at Netanyahu’s request, to help get a US visa for Milchan.
Detectives were reportedly also keen to question Netanyahu on a second affair, known as case 2,000, which is examining allegations that he improperly sought a deal to get more favourable coverage from one of Israel’s leading newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth.
The alleged deal, believed to have not been finalised, would have meant Netanyahu getting positive coverage in return for helping curb Yediot’s competitor, the pro-Netanyahu freesheet Israel Hayom.
In August, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff Ari Harow struck a star-witness deal, reportedly involving testimony he provided on the two cases.
Netanyahu has consistently denied any wrongdoing in relation to these investigations and says he has been the target of a campaign by political opponents.
In a television interview on Thursday evening, Netanyahu’s lawyer, Jacob Weinroth, insisted his client was honest but had a weakness for wealthy people.
“Netanyahu is an honest person,” Weinroth told Channel 2. “If you ask him for a list of his successes and his failures, your jaw will drop. That said, he very much admires money. I know his weakness for wealthy people.”
Earlier this week, two of Netanyahu’s closest associates – his personal lawyer David Shimron and Isaac Molcho, who has acted as a foreign envoy – were questioned over a third investigation, case 3,000, involving a €2bn (£1.8bn) deal for Israel to purchase German submarines and patrol boats.
Netanyahu is not a suspect in this case, although recent reports suggest police may ask him to give testimony.
Meanwhile, key figures in the prime minister’s own party continued to advance parliamentary legislation, the sole aim of which is apparently to protect Netanyahu from any future indictment.
While Netanyahu has aggressively tried to ride out the damage from the investigations, recent polls have suggested they may be taking a toll, both on his own standing and that of his party. If the polls are right, and elections were to happen soon, Netanyahu would fall short of the number of seats needed to form a coalition.
A recent Channel 12 poll found that a majority of Israelis believed he should step down as prime minister at the end of his current term, with only 38% wanting him to remain in power for another term.