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Packer gifts land Israeli PM in hot water

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February 14, 2018

James Packer's gifts to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are under scrutiny.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political future is under a cloud after police recommended he be indicted following a lengthy investigation into more than $US300,000 in gifts he allegedly accepted from billionaires including James Packer.

Israeli police recommended to Attorney-General Avihai Mendelblit Mr Netanyahu be indicted on bribery and breach of trust charges.

Mr Netanyahu has rejected the bribery allegations being linked to $US71,000 worth of gifts he received from Mr Packer and another $US214,000 worth of gifts, including cigars and champagne, from Israeli billionaire and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Mr Packer struck up a close friendship with Mr Netanyahu in 2014 after the pair were introduced by their mutual friend Mr Milchin, who is one of Israeli's richest men and produced Hollywood hits including LA Confidential and 12 Years A Slave.

The Australian billionaire later bought a waterfront home next door to the Israeli prime minister's private home in Caesarea and was a special guest at speeches delivered by Mr Netanyahu to the US Congress and United Nations General Assembly in 2015.

Israeli police spent months trying to interview Mr Packer as they worked on their investigation. Australian Federal Police eventually questioned the casino mogul in Melbourne last December.

There are no allegations of any wrongdoing by Mr Packer, who attended the interview voluntarily.

Part of the police investigation focused on whether Mr Netanyahu tried to help Mr Packer gain residency in Israel.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri previously confirmed Mr Packer's lawyer had asked him about the possibility of obtaining citizenship or residency in Israel, even though he is not Jewish.

In a statement, Israeli police said Mr Netanyahu had helped Mr Milchan with US visa matters, by legislating a tax break and connecting him with an Indian businessman.

While Mr Netanyahu and his family have not denied accepting gifts, they insist they weren't bribes.

Israeli media previously reported Mr Milchan told police the gifts were handed over in response to "demands" from the Netanyahus.

Mr Packer reportedly corroborated Mr Milchan's statement during his interview with AFP officers, saying he was asked by Mr Milchan to give gifts to the Netanyahus.

Israeli broadcaster Channel 10 reported Mr Packer had told investigators he admired Mr Netanyahu and was "happy to give him presents, many times at his request and his wife Sarah's request".

Mr Netanyahu later told police in response to Mr Packer's testimony they were neighbours and that "now and again I asked him to bring me something to Israel from abroad".

"Certainly not in the systematic and planned way that is being put to me," Channel 10 reported Mr Netanyahu as telling investigators.

During his first state visit to Australia in February 2017, Mr Netanyahu insisted nothing would come of the police investigation into his ties with Mr Packer as there was "nothing there, except friendship".

"No, I'm not worried at all. Not at all," he told reporters in Sydney.

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