The Israeli government is asking former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara to return a stash of gifts from foreign leaders belonging to the State of Israel, but Netanyahu’s office says they are no longer in his possession.
The Ma’ariv newspaper reports that Netanyahu, whose government ended as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister in June, did not return the items at the request of the legal adviser in the prime minister’s office, Shlomit Barnea Farago.
“At the end of your term as prime minister, you were required to return all gifts received during your term in the condition they were given, barring reasonable wear and tear from the passage of time,” Barnea reportedly wrote. .
A senior Israeli official confirmed to the Associated Press that the prime minister’s office has contacted the former prime minister to: return the gifts he gathered during his 12 years in power.
The list of 42 state gifts reportedly includes a plate from former US First Lady Melania Trump, a glass box from President Barack Obama and an antique Bible from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among the gifts is also a signed copy of the former president Donald Trump‘s order to transfer the American embassy to Jerusalem.
Under Israeli law, gifts from foreign leaders worth more than $90 are considered property of the Israeli government. During a prime minister’s term, gifts can be displayed in the leader’s office or official residence, but Netanyahu had to return them after he left office.
A Netanyahu spokesperson said the pair had have returned all their gifts and that those “in question are not owned by former Prime Minister Netanyahu.” The statement called the Ma’ariv report “an attempt to create a fictional episode to distract the public from the NIS 23 million [$7.15 million] spent on the renovation of the private homes of [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett and [Alternate Prime Minister Yair] Lapid.”
This is not Netanyahu’s first gift scandal. Netanyahu was charged last year with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. According to the investigation, Netanyahu accepted cigars, champagne and other gifts from wealthy businessmen and offered bribes in exchange for favorable media coverage. After his electoral defeat in 1999, police accused the then prime minister of removing gifts worth $100,000 from his official residence. The Jerusalem prosecutor eventually closed the case due to a lack of evidence.
The latest allegations of gifts emerged while Netanyahu was vacationing on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. The former Israeli leader reportedly dined with Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison, a key witness to the prosecution in Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption process.