Billionaire James Packer: Netanyahu probes drove me from Israel

“Israel will never be the same for me. It’s a bigger loss than the bad deals I’ve made,” Packer said. 

By Jack Gold, World Israel News

A new book on Australian billionaire James Packer says he’s avoiding visiting Israel because of his alleged entanglement in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption cases.

In a book published this week titled The Price of Fortune: The Untold Story of Being James Packer, by Australian journalist Damon Kitney and in collaboration with its subject, the tycoon’s relations with Israel and with senior Israeli officials are extensively covered.

The book outlines how Packer, 51, first arrived in Israel in 2013 with Hollywood producer and businessman Arnon Milchan, an Israeli whom he had met a decade before through business dealings. At the time, Packer also became acquainted with then-President Shimon Peres, Netanyahu and then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid.

“He immediately fell in love with the country,” said businessman Paul Bassett, who also accompanied Packer during his visits to Israel.

In one of Netanyahu’s corruption probes, called File 1000, Netanyahu reportedly received gifts from Milchan, Packer and other supporters.

Packer, according to the book, developed a close friendship with Peres and even hosted his last birthday dinner about two months before his death. However, a deeper connection was forged with Netanyahu and his family, including his son Yair, who reportedly used his apartment regularly.

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A source close to Packer recalls that Packer said he could not imagine two people closer than he and Netanyahu. Packer attended the prime minister’s speeches in Congress in March 2015 and at the U.N. General Assembly six months later and eventually purchased a villa near the private home of the Netanyahu family in Caesarea.

According to the book, during 2015 and 2016 Israel became Packer’s official residence and he brought his yacht to the country. His lawyers approached the tax authorities for clarification about becoming a resident. Kitney noted that Packer also “toyed” with the idea of becoming an Israeli citizen but gave up the idea after his advisers learned about the technicalities involved in the process.

Case 1000 changed Packer’s attitude toward Israel after police began probing his connections with Netanyahu and Milchan. Following negotiations between the investigation team and Packer’s lawyers, according to the book, he agreed to testify after he was promised that the information would not be used against him.

Netanyahu ‘most impressive person, one of the nicest’

In November 2017 he flew to Australia, where he was questioned by the Australian Federal Police in the presence of Israeli investigators. Last February, the police recommended indicting Netanyahu and Milchan, but not Packer.

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Sources close to Packer reportedly said he was amazed that because of his relations with Netanyahu, he became entangled in Israeli politics. “For James, Israel was a place unlike any other to find privacy, a central place in the world where he could feel protected,” said one of his friends. “It’s all gone now. He will never be able to return there again. ”

Packer has not spoken with Netanyahu for more than two years, the book says, although he still compliments him.

“He’s the most impressive person I’ve ever met and one of the nicest,” he told Kitney. “My time in Israel was one of the most special periods of my life. Israel was better to me than I was to her. Israel will never be the same for me. Too many things have changed, and it’s a bigger loss than the bad deals I’ve made. “