Tourism Minister Yariv Levin gave testimony to police on Sunday in a case involving recordings of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes discussing an alleged quid pro quo deal, Hebrew-language media reported Wednesday.
Levin, who is considered a close ally of the prime minister, confirmed to the Haaretz daily Wednesday that he was summoned to testify by the police, but did not provide any further details.
On Tuesday, as more details from the recordings continued to emerge, Channel 2 reported that Mozes had told Netanyahu he would do everything he could to keep the prime minister in power if Netanyahu agreed to promote legislation to curtail the distribution of his newspaper’s main competitor, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily.
“If we can come to an agreement on the law (to limit Israel Hayom), I will do all I can to make sure you stay here (as prime minister) as long as you want,” Channel 2 quoted Mozes as saying in recordings of conversations between the two. “I’m looking you in the eye, and saying this as clearly as I can.”
Haaretz reported that Levin was likely summoned to testify on whether he received instructions from Netanyahu to advance the so-called “Israel Hayom Bill” on the eve of the March 2015 Knesset elections.
The proposed law would have forced the free daily Israel Hayom — Yedioth’s chief rival and a staunch voice of support for Netanyahu and his Likud party — to charge its readers for the paper, a move that would likely damage its ranking as the most widely circulated newspaper in the country and give Yedioth’s declining revenues a boost.
In return, Netanyahu would enjoy more favorable coverage in Yedioth.
Channel 2 said police have tapes of two meetings between Netanyahu and Mozes, but believe they met on many more occasions during 2014.
As well as initiating the meetings, Netanyahu was previously reported to have instructed his then-chief of staff, Ari Harow, to secretly record them.
It appears that the recordings were found at Harow’s home by police during a separate investigation into suspicions that Harow had fabricated the sale of a consulting company he owned.
According to the Haaretz daily, Harow is expected to be charged in the coming weeks.
The prime minister has been questioned by police twice in the past two weeks over those negotiations, as well as over a separate case involving gifts allegedly given to him by businessmen.
In the latter case, police have seized receipts for gifts worth up to NIS 400,000 ($104,000) given to Netanyahu over a number of years by Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, Channel 10 news reported Monday night. The receipts were reportedly seized during a raid on Milchan’s offices in Ramat Gan.
Police have been investigating allegations that a number of businessmen have given lucrative gifts to Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, over his years in office. Last week, Channel 2 news reported that Milchan was one of up to four businessmen eyed as suspected benefactors of the Netanyahus. Milchan is alleged to have provided the prime minister with a steady supply of expensive cigars and his wife with champagne for years.
Over the weekend, Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu had asked US Secretary of State John Kerry three times in 2014 to intervene on behalf of Milchan and arrange a long-term visa for Milchan to live in the United States. The visa was arranged.
On Sunday, Channel 10 said that in addition to Milchan, Australian billionaire James Packer was also paying for meals for the Netanyahus at their private residence in Caesarea, as well as cigars and champagne. Packer and Milchan are friends and have mutual business interests.
The Prime Minister’s Office declined a request Tuesday from The Times of Israel to comment on the latest reports on the receipts or on whether the prime minister had initiated the meetings with Mozes.