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Netanyahu defends son’s demand for prostitute cash from scion of energy baron

After Yair Netanyahu caught on tape pressuring tycoon's son for money, his family says conversation was 'between young people drinking alcohol'
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his son, Yair, during the March 2015 elections (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his son on Tuesday a day after an Israeli television channel aired recordings from 2015 in which he pressured an Israeli gas tycoon's son for money for a prostitute using a controversial gas deal as leverage.

The recordings come as Israeli police continue their investigation into suspicions that the prime minister received gifts from tycoons in exchange for political favours.

“Your witch hunt has reached a new and unprecedented low with the broadcast of a secret tape of things that were said jokingly two and a half years ago, between young people drinking alcohol,” the Netanyahu family said in a statement.

'Bro, my dad now arranged a $20bn show for you, and you can’t spot me 400 shekels'

- Yair Netanyahu in recording aired on Israeli TV station

According to an Israel Television News Company report, Yair Netanyahu, then 25, was in conversation outside a Tel Aviv strip club with Nir Maimon, the son of Kobi Maimon, a major shareholder in Isramco, one of the companies involved in developing Tamar, one of Israel's offshore gas fields.

A third friend, Roman Abramov, who was reportedly employed at the time by a firm of the Australian billionaire James Packer and earning tens of thousands of shekels each month despite having "no relevant experience", was also present.

“Bro, you have to spot me," Yair Netanyahu was recorded telling Nir Maimon. "My dad made an awesome deal for your dad, bro. He fought, fought in the Knesset for this, bro."

"What?" Maimon replied.

“You owe us; you owe us 25,000 Shekels [$7,255],” Abramov adds.

Yair Netanyahu continues: “Bro, my dad now arranged a $20bn show for you, and you can’t spot me 400 shekels [$115]?”

Netanyahu probe: Family 'demanded' gifts, Australian tycoon told police 
Read More »

Hadashot - another name for the Israel Television News Company - reported that the armoured car in which the conversations took place was provided by the prime minister’s office and driven by a state-funded driver.

A security guard, also funded by the state, escorted Yair and his friends throughout the night from the first strip club to another, according to Hadashot.

In the recordings, Abramov said that Maimon gave Netanyahu 400 shekels [$115]. Netanyahu said: "This was for a prostitute." Yair Netanyahu and his friends can be heard discussing the thousands of shekels they paid for strippers over the course of the evening.

The younger Netanyahu is also heard offering to "arrange" a meeting for his friends with a stripper. He talked about killing the bodyguard protecting him to keep the conversation from becoming public.

According to Hadashot report, Yair’s mother, Sara Netanyahu, called during the evening. “My mom’s calling... how embarrassing,” he said.

Maimon and Abramov ended up at James Packer's apartment at the Royal Beach hotel in Tel Aviv, according to Hadashot.

The multi-billion-dollar gas deal, eventually approved in December 2015, sparked mass protests in Israel. Critics said the agreement would hand the companies involved an effective monopoly over the state's natural gas reserves.

'Unprecedented low'

In the statement to the Israel Television News Company, the Netanyahu family said that the recordings "were meant to undermine the prime minister". 

"The prime minister has no connection with Kobi Maimon, whom he met only once, 10 years ago. Prime Minister Netanyahu transferred the gas deal because he wanted to maintain competition for the Tamar gas field, owned by Kobi Maimon.

"The prime minister did not know anything about the relationship between his son Yair and Kobi Maimon’s son. Yair was in no way involved with the gas deal, and if he spoke about the matter, he obviously did this in jest."

Lee Levi in a photo from her Instagram account

Yair Netanyahu also issued a statement saying that "tonight I watched a disgraceful, yellow-press report that presented illegal recordings of a conversation that took place two and a half years ago.

"In a night conversation, under the influence of alcohol, I spoke nonsense about women and other things that were better left unsaid.

"These remarks do not reflect who I am, the values on which I was raised and my beliefs. I regret the remarks and apologise if anyone was hurt by them. In addition, the things I said to Maimon were a dumb joke and joking around with him, as anyone could tell. I never took an interest in the natural-gas framework agreement and never had any idea about its details."

Lee Levi, an Israeli model who has dated Yair Netanyahu, said on Tuesday that she "regrets being his girlfriend". 

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak tweeted that Yair Netanyahu was a “narcissist who grew up in a foul swamp of corruption with favours from billionaires and dark deals at the expense of the Israeli citizens".

Translation: Mercy on the son. Impossible to call him to return back to tracks, he seems that he never was on them. A narcissist who grew up in a foul swamp of corruption with favours from billionaires and dark deals at the expense of the Israeli citizens. Corruption screams from all the sides. Legally, this will continue. Morally, this is over.

After the broadcasts, MK Tamar Zandberg of the Meretz Party tweeted: "What rot. The ‘friends', the hedonism, the smugness, the sense of owning public money, the disrespect and contempt for women and the ‘fun’ of purchasing sex. Eww."

Translation: What rot. The ‘friends,’ the hedonism, the smugness, the sense of owning public money, the disrespect and contempt for women and the ‘fun’ of purchasing sex. Eww.

Stav Shaffir, an MK with the Zionist Union, tweeted: "No, Netanyahu. Every parent I know would be ashamed and ask himself what is his responsibility for educating his children to such a moral low.”

"When the father believes that he is Caesar, it is no wonder that the boy thinks he is a monarch and that women, public servants, and 20 billion of the citizens' money, are gifts for family members. Shame."

Last month, Packer reportedly told Australian police, assisting the Israeli force on their corruption investigation, that the Netanyahu family had demanded gifts from him. 

According to Israel's Yediot Ahronot news website, he gave Yair Netanyahu a luxury New York hotel stay and 10 tickets to Sarah Netanyahu for concert by Packer's former fiancee, Mariah Carey.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.