Activist asks High Court to include Netanyahu in Bezeq graft probe

Securities fraud investigation has already ensnared Communications Ministry director general, Bezeq’s CEO and its controlling shareholder

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, November 12, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Abir Sultan)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, November 12, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Abir Sultan)

The High Court was petitioned Tuesday to urge Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to investigate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as part of a fraud investigation into Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecom company.

The Israeli Securities Authority on Monday handed over to the public prosecution what it said was compelling evidence against the heads of Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecom company, after an investigation that has implicated two figures considered close to Netanyahu.

Tuesday’s petition was filed by anti-corruption activist and attorney Shachar Ben Meir. It asked that the court order Mandelblit to explain why Netanyahu himself is not a person of interest in the investigation given that he personally appointed Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber, is close to Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch and served as communications minister throughout the period under examination.

In a statement Monday, ISA head Shmuel Hauser said he found strong evidence supporting the initial suspicions of criminal offenses, including violations of the securities law, fraud, breach of trust, and obstructing legal proceedings.

Shaul Elovitz, Bezeq owner (Calcalist screenshot)

Although no names were mentioned in the statement, the initial ISA investigation looked into Elovitch, Filber, Bezeq CEO Stella Handler and the CEO of the Yes satellite TV company, Ron Ayalon.

Elovitch is considered a personal friend of Netanyahu’s, and critics had long warned of a possible conflict of interest the relationship could signify with the premier also serving as Israel’s communications minister since 2014.

The ISA investigation found strong evidence that Elovitch allegedly made some NIS 170 million ($48 million) illegally in a business deal Bezeq made with Yes, Monday’s statement said.

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

The ISA said it uncovered evidence Bezeq received inside information from the Communications Ministry about regulatory decisions, and worked directly with the ministry’s director Filber to influence said decisions to Bezeq’s benefit.

“This is one of of the most complex and broad investigations carried out by the ISA, and included many investigative activities and the use of the most advanced technologies in the world,” Hauser, the ISA chief, said.

In response to the allegations, a lawyer for Elovitch said, “The correct thing to do is to be patient and wait for the truth to come to light,” insisting that no crimes had been committed. A Bezeq spokesman declined to comment.

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