The Indian industrialist Ratan Tata’s name has surfaced in the police recommendations to indict the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges, according to news reports. It further notes that in the charges related to ‘Case 1000’, Netanyahu had allegedly agreed to promote a concept of setting up Tata’s low-cost automobile facility as a favour to Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in return for lavish gifts valued over one million shekels.
The plan, which dates back to 2009, was to set up a car production facility by Tata in a proposed free trade zone spanning across Israel, Jordan and occupied territories of Palestine. Milchan met Netanyahu in 2009 to discuss the plan as part of the ‘peace initiative’, and to employ Palestinians as well as Israelis and Jordanians.
This deal was among other incidents that form the ‘Case 1000’ in which Netanyahu and his family received Champagne, cigars, jewellery and clothing as ‘gifts’ from Milchan in return for favours. Netanyahu has not denied receiving the gifts but said that they were a token of friendship from Milchan.
Milchan established the security consultancy company Blue Sky International (BSI) in 2008 in wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, in which the city’s iconic Taj hotel was also attacked. The initial client of BSI was Tata-owned Taj hotels, and the company helped the hotel upgrade its security and also provide training, guidance and surveys. According to some reports, TATA went further into partnership with BSI, before BSI ceased its operations.
Ratan Tata was ‘visited’ by law enforcement in November last year when he was in Tel Aviv for a conference regarding the investigation into charges against Netanyahu. When asked about his relationship with Milchan, Tata said he had a client relationship with BSI, and only later came to know that Milchan had an interest in the company.
Taj is the hotel where Netanyahu stayed during his recent visit to India.
But police claim that Milchan and Ratan Tata had established a joint company for the purpose of starting the production facility of cheap cars looking to the Middle East market. In 2009, Milchan had met Netanyahu to discuss the plan in detail.
According to the minutes of the meeting available with the police, in early 2010, Tata representatives met officials from Netanyahu's office and his bureau director- general at the time, Eyal Gabbay regarding the concept. The Tata team expressed their disappointment regarding the failure to appoint a team to study the feasibility of the concept.
The plan died a natural death as security officials and also Netanyahu’s advisors from his PMO opposed the project as it would require a bidding process and also the employment of Palestinians will be portrayed as ‘employing slave labourers.’
The police said that the project would have generated “huge profits” for Tata and Milchan.
Some reports suggest that Netanyahu still wanted to go ahead but could not do so due to the opposition.
Another business tycoon James Packer, whose name also surfaced in the investigations, had invested around $15 million in BSI.
Responding to allegations, Tata in a statement said that the reports are “factually incorrect and apparently motivated”.
“These discussions on the project were directly held between a Tata team and the Israeli authorities and not with Arnon Milchan as stated by the Israeli media. Tata wishes to clarify once again that there has never been any partnership in any such project with Milchan,” the statement said.
In another set of cases, 'case 2000', Netanyahu allegedly received bribes from Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Yedioth Aharonoth, one of Israel's largest newspapers.