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Police again quiz Israeli PM Netanyahu over graft suspicion

Jerusalem: Israeli police have questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the second time in four days on suspicion of graft as a “possible criminal suspect” who received “improper benefits” from businessmen including a prominent Hollywood movie producer.

A police statement said that Netanyahu was questioned for over five hours under caution at his Jerusalem residence over allegations he illegally accepted gifts from wealthy foreign businessmen as well as over another corruption affair, which some Hebrew media reports have said is more “serious”. Investigators have kept a tight lid on the other case. Police confirmed they have interrogated a second suspect, whose identity was not revealed.

The 67-year-old Netanyahu tried to play down the development telling his critics, “don’t celebrate yet”, hours before he was to be questioned earlier on Monday.

“Nothing will come (of the probe) and you will continue to spew out hot air,” the prime minister said mockingly.

In a three-hour interrogation session with police on Monday, the Israeli premier admitted that he had received gifts from businessmen, but insisted they were entirely legal, his lawyer said.

Hebrew media reported that police are investigating suspicions that Netanyahu and his wife Sara illicitly accepted cigars worth hundreds of thousands of shekels and champagne from American-Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. Milchan, famous for his films ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Pretty Woman’, is close to the Netanyahu family.

Channel 2 news reported last evening that Netanyahu received the cigars from Milchan over the last 7-8 years. Sara reportedly received bottles of pink champagne worth hundreds of shekels apiece during that period.

Netanyahu is known as a connoisseur of fine cigars and the channel pointed out rumours that he smokes tens of thousands of shekels worth of them each month.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who is overseeing the investigation against Netanyahu, has said the premier is suspected of “receiving improper benefits from businessmen”.

A statement issued by Mandelblit earlier this week said that police found enough evidence to support the questioning of the prime minister as a “possible criminal suspect”.

The statement chronicled the inquiry but did not provide details of the nature of suspicions in the graft case.

The police have been examining “a long list of claims” against the premier since July, Mandelblit said.

Israeli police is said to have interrogated witnesses abroad as well as in Israel about the graft case against Netanyahu and his family.