Ratan Tata has “testified” before the Israeli police in connection with allegations of corruption involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reports in Israeli media said, which were denied as “factually incorrect” by the noted Indian industrialist’s office.
Tata “testified to the police for two hours regarding suspicions that he was involved in a case in which the PM is alleged to have received gifts valued at hundreds of thousands of shekels,” The Times of Israel reported. The investigation into allegations against Netanyahu related to the expensive gifts has been dubbed as Case 1000, and also involves Israeli businessman and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
According to a Channel 10 report, Milchan allegedly asked Netanyahu to promote a free trade zone near the Jordan-Israel border. The request by Milchan was allegedly made following consultations with Tata. The initiative never came through.
When contacted, Israel Police national spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said he had “no idea whatsoever”. Meanwhile, a statement emailed to PTI by Tata’s office did not deny the meeting between him and the Israeli officials. But it said the reports in Israeli media on the contents of the meeting were “factually incorrect and appear to have been motivated”. “Tata holds Netanyahu in high esteem and considers him to be a respected friend. Allegations such as those made seem baseless and highly motivated,” the statement said.
The Tata Group said a few days before the ‘Fuel Choices and Smart Mobility Summit’ on October 31 in Israel, a section of the press reported that in connection with their probe of Milchan, an Israeli investigative team might also speak to Tata while he was in Israel. It said Tata was advised to cancel his visit but as he had nothing to hide, he attended the conference in Tel Aviv as planned.
“Tata was requested if he would informally meet with members of agencies in connection with an ongoing probe in Israel as they wished to confirm certain facts relating to the investigations they were undertaking,” the statement said. “Tata agreed to meet them and two persons, presumed to be members of the agencies, met him at the David Intercontinental on November 1st. No IDs were offered,” it added.
The officers asked questions on how Tata had met Milchan and their business relations, if any. However, Tata clarified they had no business relationship other than a client relationship with a security advisory company for the Taj Group of Hotels subsequent to the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai where Tatas were later informed that Milchan had an interest, it said. Tata was also asked to recount events around a proposal in 2009 to build a low volume automotive assembly plant in Israel.
“Tata clarified that he was requested by a member of the Israeli security team to assist in preparing a concept plan for a project that was to be part of a peace initiative, to be built on the banks of the Jordan river with a free trade corridor to Haifa to offset higher logistics costs in Israel. It was intended to provide skilled jobs to Palestinians,” the statement said.
A concept layout plan for the plant was drawn up but was never costed. The peace initiative was never put in place and the project died a natural death, it said. It said that the team member queried Tata on a figure he read out from a sheet of paper he had, stating that Milchan was spearheading the project and that it was estimated to be $250 million.
“Tata immediately responded that he had never discussed this project with Milchan and the project cost had never been computed by Tatas. He stated that he had no knowledge as to how that figure was established. The number also seemed inordinately high for an assembly plant. They asked whether Netanyahu had been involved. Tata stated that there had been one meeting of about 10-15 minutes where Netanyahu was present at which he had suggested one or two preferred sites for the plant,” the statement added. It said Tata also “clarifies that at no time did he express or support a view that Netanyahu was involved directly and indirectly or derive any personal benefit from this project.”
Netanyahu is facing two separate criminal investigations, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. Case 1000 revolves around alleged illicit gifts received by Netanyahu and his family from billionaire benefactors. Case 2000 focuses on an alleged clandestine quid pro quo deal made between Netanyahu and Israel’s largest-circulated daily Yedioth Ahronoth’s publisher and owner Arnon Mozes.