Criminal Probe Reportedly Targets Netanyahu for Illegally Accepting Gifts

by Jack Jenkins –

Similar problems could soon haunt President-elect Trump.

In what possible preview of similar issues that stand to mar President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly dodging investigators who want to question him over allegations that he used his office for personal financial gain.

According to Israeli paper Haaretz, Netanyahu has been dogged by controversy since July, when Israel Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced his office would begin examining various allegations against the Prime Minister—including reportedly receiving gifts from business tycoons. Mendelblit maintained for months that the probe was only an inquiry, but announced Wednesday that he is upgrading it to a full-fledged criminal investigation, saying police will now be allowed to question Netanyahu.

For his part, Netanyahu has denied the alleged improprieties, which include reports that he took gifts while in office worth “hundreds of thousands of shekels (Israeli currency)” — including suits allegedly given to him by U.S. businessman Ron Lauder. (For reference, 100,000 shekels are worth approximately $25,000.) He has reportedly been deftly avoiding police all week, with officials telling local media that they are unable to find a time to meet with him for lengthy questioning.

“All the supposed affairs have proved baseless, and the same will be with the claims now being published in the media,” Netanyahu’s office told Haaretz. “We say again: There will be nothing — because there is nothing.”

The controversy—which some claim will soon escalate into a major scandal—is a possible sneak-peek of how similar financial issues could haunt Trump’s incoming administration. The real estate mogul has faced harsh criticism from legal scholars who argue his vast business entanglements will produce conflicts of interest during his presidency, especially if he receives funds from foreign governments—something he will do unless he sells his companies.

Such practices likely constitute a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s “Emoluments Clause,” which prohibits presidents from “accept[ing] of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state” without the consent of Congress. If Trump refuses to sell his business assets and simply hands over operational control to his children, he could be in violation of the Constitution on his first day in office.

Meanwhile, Trump and Netanyahu are forging an increasingly warm relationship: the two have been united in opposing President Barack Obama’s recent decision to avoid vetoing a United Nations resolution condemning settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the businessman reportedly wants the prime minister to attend his inauguration.

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress