The embarrassing recordings of Yair Netanyahu, 26, lit up Israeli politics and dominated headlines as commentators debated whether they revealed new corruption or were just the drunken banter of an overprivileged son of a politician.
The secret tapes were made in 2015, when Yair Netanyahu was on a night out in Tel Aviv with Ori Maimon, the son of Kobi Maimon, a major shareholder in an Israeli energy company which owns a gas field in the Mediterranean.
On the recordings, Yair is heard complaining that Ori would not give give him 400 shekels (about $115) which he said was for a prostitute.
“My father arranged $20bn for your father and you’re crying over 400 shekels for me,” he said.
He added: “My dad got your dad a sweet deal, he fought for it at the [Israeli parliament].”
He appears to be referring to a contentious 2015 gas deal which Mr. Netanyahu steered through parliament, in the face of stiff opposition from critics who said the deal gave too much to the companies and too little to lower energy prices.
Under the terms of the deal, two energy companies were given access to a large gas field, Leviathan, in return for scaling back operations in another gas field, Tamar, where Mr. Maimon’s company was operating.
Avi Gabbay, leader of the Labour opposition party, called for an investigation into the claims made by Yair on the tapes.
“There’s what’s been said and there are the things that are invisible to the eye,” he said.
Both Mr. Netanyahu and his son insisted the tapes were merely drunken joking and strongly denied that they constituted any evidence of corruption.
Mr. Netanyahu is already facing two criminal investigations into corruption.
Mr. Netanyahu’s lawyers tried to pressure Israel’s Television News Company into not broadcasting the tapes and blasted the company with criticism when it went ahead.
“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,” said Yair Netanyahu.
He said his comments about the gas deal were a joke and he took no “interest in the natural-gas framework agreement and never had any idea about its details.”
Mr. Netanyahu said Tuesday that the recordings had been made illegally by Yair’s state-provided driver and had been released to put pressure on him during a row over whether his adult sons should have state bodyguards.
Yair is often portrayed in the Israeli media as a spoiled playboy, who enjoys lavish holidays and expensive nights out while his state security bodyguards trail behind him.
In the recordings, Yair is heard offering his own girlfriend to his friend.
“I have to fix her up with everyone, I’m paying off my debts,” he said. The group spent much of the rest of the conversation discussing meeting prostitutes and strippers.
The conversation has been criticised as being derogatory of women.
The recording, aired late on Monday by Israeli Hadashot News, was made in 2015 while Netanyahu’s son, Yair, toured strip clubs in Tel Aviv while partying with two friends.
In it, Yair Netanyahu and his friends are heard teasing each other on who has paid for what during their night out on the town. When one of the friends tells Yair he spotted him 400 Shekels (about $115), Yair says: “No, that was for the hooker.”
In other portions of the recording Yair offers “to arrange” an ex-girlfriend for his friend in order to settle his debts, appears to rate strippers’ skills and appearances and is embarrassed by a late-night phone-call from his mother.
Yair issued a statement in which he said the news report was salacious, the recording illegal and that he was inebriated at the time.
“I said ridiculous things about women and about other people, which should not have been said. These things do not represent me, the values I was raised on and what I believe in. I regret these and apologise to anyone hurt by them,” said the statement, quoted in Israeli media.
The recording has made headlines in Israel, where Yair was criticised for using a state-funded car and driver to take him around strip clubs along with his state-funded security guard.
“This is terrible moral bankruptcy. Debased, disgusting, rude behaviour objectifying women while accompanied by a car and security funded by the state,” opposition lawmaker Shelly Yachimovich said on Facebook.
Speaking with reporters in Jerusalem on Tuesday, the prime minister said his son was right to apologise. “My wife and I raised our children to respect any person and to respect all women,” Netanyahu said.
One of the friends Netanyahu was with is the son of an Israeli businessman, Kobi Maimon, who has a stake in Israel’s offshore natural gas fields. At the time of the recording Netanyahu’s government was finalising a deal for their development.
In a written response issued to the report on Monday, Netanyahu said he was unaware of his son’s friendship with Maimon and that it had no bearing on the gas deal, nor did Yair have any knowledge of it.
He called the report “wicked gossip” and said the media was hounding his family as part of a campaign against his right-wing government.
Netanyahu, who has a sometimes adversarial relationship with Israeli media, is under police investigation for alleged corruption in two criminal cases. He denies wrongdoing.
The 26-year-old Yair Netanyahu has found himself the centre of controversy in the past.
In September, he drew anger in Israel and abroad for posting a cartoon using what the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors anti-Semitism worldwide, described as anti-Semitic imagery in a Facebook post mocking some of his father’s critics.
In August, he made another headline-grabbing post after a protester was killed during a white nationalist rally in the U.S. state of Virginia, that suggested hard-left organisations pose more of a danger than neo-Nazi groups.