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June 25, 2017

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Israeli media report new details of Netanyahu probes

Israeli media on Sunday reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to negotiate a deal for more positive coverage by a major Israeli newspaper two years ago.

Netanyahu has been questioned by police twice about allegations that he improperly accepted lavish gifts from high-profile figures in international business and Hollywood. Local media have reported that a second affair involves Netanyahu being taped negotiating mutual benefits with a high-powered media mogul.

Channel 2 TV reported that police have a copy of a recording made by Ari Harrow, Netanyahu's former chief of staff, of a 2014 conversation the prime minister held with Arnon Mozes, publisher of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper. It said they discussed trading positive coverage of Netanyahu in exchange for diminishing the impact of a free competing paper, the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom. The proposal never materialized, media reported.

Additionally, Channel 10 TV reported that Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan supplied the prime minister with a steady flow of expensive cigars, champagne and gourmet meals.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, portraying the accusations as a witch hunt against him and his family by a hostile media. Netanyahu reiterated his position to ministers from his Likud Party on Sunday, "there will be nothing, because there is nothing."

While the probe is still in its infancy, a mounting investigation could imperil Netanyahu's lengthy rule. Should Israel's attorney general decide to indict him, Netanyahu could be forced to step down.

Netanyahu, who took office in 2009, has long had an image as a cigar-smoking, cognac-drinking socialite, while his wife, Sara, has been accused of abusive behavior toward staff. Opponents have portrayed both as being out of touch with the struggles of average Israelis.

Over the years, reports have been released about the high cost of the Netanyahus' housekeeping expenses. But he has never been charged.

On Friday, Netanyahu's lawyer, Yaakov Weinroth, said he is "calm" after hearing details of the case and that there is "no scrap of crime" in someone giving cigars to a friend.

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