US billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adleson reportedly told Israeli police on Monday that he was “surprised, disappointed and angered” to learn of conversations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the publisher of a rival newspaper about an alleged quid pro quo deal that would have hobbled his own free daily Israel Hayom.
“We didn’t know about the conversations with Mozes,” Adleson said in his testimony, according to Channel 2 news. “When we found out, we were surprised, disappointed and angry.”
Adelson, considered a close friend of the prime minister, was questioned for four hours at the Lahav 433 serious crimes unit in Lod for a second time in under a month in one of two ongoing corruption investigations into Netanyahu.
According to the report, leaked recordings of the conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes from 2014, which are at the center of the investigation, have caused a rift between Adelson and the prime minister, whom he has long buoyed with positive coverage in his newspaper.
Adelson’s wife, Miriam, also met with investigators, in her first testimony in the case. Neither of the Adelsons is suspected of wrongdoing in the investigation, known as Case 2000. The probe is examining whether Netanyahu and Arnon “Noni” Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, hatched a deal under which the prime minister would advance legislation to reduce the free, pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom’s circulation in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu is likely to be questioned again by police in the case, as well as over a separate corruption investigation known as Case 1000. That investigation revolves around alleged illicit gifts given to Netanyahu and his family by billionaire benefactors, most notably 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.
Adelson also met with police in May. At the time, he reportedly told them that he never discussed the alleged quid pro quo media deal.
According to Hebrew media reports from a month ago, Adelson told investigators that Netanyahu never spoke to him about his conversations with Mozes, nor about the so-called “Israel Hayom Bill” proposed by Labor MK Eitan Cabel to make it illegal to distribute a full-sized newspaper for free — a proposal to which the prime minister was so opposed, some reports have claimed, that he called new elections in 2015.
Adelson has been a staunch backer of Netanyahu and donated millions to the Donald Trump campaign. His Israel Hayom newspaper has for years been firmly pro-Netanyahu, though some observers have noticed a shift in its coverage of late.
In recordings of their meetings that were seized by police, Netanyahu and Mozes reportedly can be heard referring to Adelson as “the gingy [redhead].”
Channel 2 News reported in January that Mozes had provided evidence showing that Netanyahu wielded huge influence over Israel Hayom — evidence that suggested the prime minister plays an active role in the Israeli media and contradicted an affidavit he gave stating that he did “not have, and has never had, any ties of control or any other organizational ties, in any form, with Israel Hayom, or with newspaper staff or journalists writing for it, that would influence the paper’s editorial considerations or its contents.”
Police had wanted to question Adelson for some time prior to the May sit-down, in the hope of establishing whether the Netanyahu-Mozes conversations were ever translated into action.
Netanyahu has denied all of the allegations against him in both cases.
Alexander Fulbright and Sue Surkes contributed to this report.