Netanyahu convenes political allies as corruption allegations pile up
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Netanyahu convenes political allies as corruption allegations pile up

PM said to be planning media blitz after damning comptroller report and as submarine affair deepens, with other probes ongoing

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, July 10, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, July 10, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday summoned some of his closest Likud party ministers and lawmakers for a meeting to review developments in two corruption investigations that have entangled figures with close ties to him.

The get-together came as director-general of the Communications Ministry Shlomo Filber was called in for a second day of questioning by the Israel Securities Authority on suspicion of ethics violations and securities fraud in a case involving national telecommunications giant Bezeq.

In a separate police investigation, Netanyahu’s personal lawyer David Shimron was questioned for the fourth time on Thursday at the police Lahav 433 fraud unit in connection with the so-called submarine affair, and two other figures in the scandal were ordered to remain behind bars.

Shimron is a suspect in “Case 3000,” in which authorities are investigating possible corruption and bribery involved in multi-billion-shekel naval deals with German shipbuilding company ThyssenKrupp. Netanyhau is not a suspect in the investigation, which has also seen the arrest and questioning of former deputy head of the National Security Council Avriel Bar-Yosef and ThyssenKrupp’s Israeli agent Miki Ganor.

A Rishon Lezion court extended the detention of Bar-Yosef and Ganor until Monday.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, a state comptroller report accused the prime minister of failing to disclose his close ties with Bezeq head Shaul Elovitz in time, and raised suspicions he and Filber had made decisions at the Communications Ministry, which he used to head, in favor of the telecom giant.

Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber at a Knesset committee meeting in Jerusalem, July 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber at a Knesset committee meeting in Jerusalem, July 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to Channel 2, citing a source familiar with the meeting at Netanyahu’s office, the gathering was to prepare a “media blitz” in the coming days.

Energy Minister Minister Yuval Steinitz, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Environment Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev and Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis were all to gather at the prime minister’s bureau at noon. Coalition chairman MK David Bitan along with lawmakers Miki Zohar and Amir Ohana, all from the Netanyahu-led Likud party, were also to be in attendance.

Netanyahu is the subject of two other ongoing investigations.

In Case 1000, police are looking into gifts including hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne said to have been given to the prime minister and his wife Sara by Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

A separate investigation, known as Case 2000, focuses on an alleged clandestine quid pro quo deal made between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister is said to have promised Mozes he would advance legislation to reduce the circulation of Yedioth’s main commercial rival, the freebie Israel Hayom, in exchange for friendlier coverage from Yedioth. No such deal was ever implemented. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

After the comptroller report was released Wednesday, Netanyahu dismissed it as the latest “futile” attempt to manufacture a scandal.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said that Netanyahu did not originally report his personal connection to Elovitz in a conflict of interest declaration, casting a shadow over the way the Communications Ministry treated Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications firm.

Shapira wrote that there was a lack of transparency over decisions made by Netanyahu regarding Bezeq before he was barred from involvement with the company and handed over decision-making to Filber.

Filber was appointed to the post by Netanyahu in June 2015, and has been criticized for his lenient policies toward telecom firms, including Bezeq. In an interview with Bloomberg in 2015 Filber suggested that competition in the telecom market had gone too far. He later denied saying that.

The watchdog said that Filber may have acted in ways that benefited Bezeq, citing several cases.

David Shimron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's personal lawyer, at a Likud press conference in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2015. (Flash90)
David Shimron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, at a Likud press conference in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2015. (Flash90)

Shapira questioned whether it was possible for Filber to make unbiased decisions against Elovitz in light of the prime minister’s close connection with the Bezeq head.

The report found that Filber acted in ways that benefited Bezeq numerous times.

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