After interrogation, PM ‘more sure than ever before — there will be nothing’

After interrogation, PM ‘more sure than ever before — there will be nothing’

In video on Bezeq probe, Netanyahu thanks ‘millions’ of citizens for supporting his family; confidants say he ‘feels very good about the investigation’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Facbook video, March 2, 2018 (Facebook screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Facbook video, March 2, 2018 (Facebook screenshot)

After completing a five-hour questioning session by police Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he felt “more sure than ever before” that “nothing” will come of the latest corruption investigation.

In a video and text statement posted on Facebook (Hebrew), Netanyahu said he felt “more sure than ever before — there will be nothing.”

Confidants told Channel 10 news the premier “answered all the questions he was asked” and “feels very good about the investigation.”

Netanyahu in the video also thanked the “millions of Israeli citizens who express such strong support in me, my wife and my family. You warm our hearts. Thank you.”

On Saturday the prime minister leaves on a week-long diplomatic trip to the United States, where he will attend the annual policy conference of pro-Israel lobby AIPAC and meet with US President Donald Trump.

In this Tuesday, May 23, 2017 file photo, US President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

In the video, he called the trip “very important” and referred to Trump as “a great friend of the State of Israel, a true friend.”

Investigators questioned Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem Friday morning in the Bezeq corruption probe.

While police were speaking to Netanyahu, his wife Sara was interrogated separately for five hours at the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit’s headquarters in Lod as part of the Case 4000 probe. Interrogators reportedly informed her that she was also a suspect in the case.

Hebrew media reported that the prime minister and his wife, Sara, were questioned under caution as suspects in the case. Police said only that the couple “were questioned for a number of hours as part of an investigation” by police and the Israel Securities Authority.

Asked to confirm which cases the questioning referred to and whether the prime minister or his wife were being treated as criminal suspects, a police spokesman remained vague, telling The Times of Israel only that the interrogations took place “in general as part of the investigation.”

“There are no further details or information on the ongoing investigations,” the police added.

The Attorney General’s Office, which usually authorizes the decision to treat a public official as a criminal suspect, declined comment on the questioning. Police, however, confirmed that it was “being carried out with the supervision of the state attorney and approval of the attorney general.”

Questioning the two at the same time allows investigators to present identical material to both, including recordings and text messages gathered during the probe.

It had also been expected that Netanyahu would be questioned in Case 3000, which involves suspected corruption in the multi-billion-shekel purchase of submarines and other military naval vessels from a German shipbuilder. But investigators did not in the end touch on the matter in Friday’s session.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel aviv Magistrate’s Court for extension of his remand in Case 4000 , February 22, 2018. (Flash90)

At the same time as questioning Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, police also brought in suspects Shaul Elovitch and Nir Hefetz for another round of questioning in the case, and also interrogated a former official at the Communications Ministry.

Ynet reported that former Netanyahu chief of staff David Sharan also gave testimony in the case on Friday. Sharan was named in September as a suspect in the submarine affair.

The Bezeq case, also known as Case 4000, involves suspicions that Elovitch, chief shareholder of telecommunications giant Bezeq, ordered the Walla news site, which he also owns, to grant fawning coverage to the Netanyahus in exchange for the prime minister’s advancement of regulations benefiting him.

Speaking at a hearing this week regarding Elovitch and Hefetz — a former media adviser for the prime minister who has also been implicated in the case — state prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh of the Israel Securities Authority said that Netanyahu was at the center of “a very grave instance of giving and taking bribes.”

Investigators are in possession of correspondence between Sara Netanyahu and Elovitch’s wife that appear to implicate the prime minister’s wife in the burgeoning scandal, Channel 10 news reported Thursday.

Earlier in the week, the news outlet published a text message sent by Sara Netanyahu to Iris Elovitch, blasting coverage of the Netanyahus on Walla and urging her to “quickly” change it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his wife Sara Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 28, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool)

“You’re killing us. You’re slaughtering us. You’re destroying the state. What type of site is this?” Sara Netanyahu wrote in a WhatsApp message at an unspecified time, according to the report. “Change this. Do something with this. You’re the owners of the site. This should happen quickly.”

In another text, Netanyahu reportedly asked Elovitch why Walla editor Aviram Elad had not yet been fired.

The prime minister, who denies wrongdoing in any of the various corruption cases swirling around him, slammed “biased and deceptive leaks” in response to the report.

A flurry of developments were reported recently in Case 4000, following the arrest of a number of figures involved in the investigation.

Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of the Communications Ministry and a longtime Netanyahu confidant, signed a deal last week to turn state’s witness and possibly incriminate Netanyahu in the affair.

Netanyahu served as communications minister from November 2014 to February 2017. During that time, Walla’s coverage notably changed to favor the Netanyahu family, and Bezeq was given permission, among other things, to buy the satellite cable provider Yes, overriding antitrust issues, and to renege on its commitment to lease out its infrastructure to other telecom companies so they could provide competing fixed line and internet services.

Sources close to Netanyahu, who himself has denied any wrongdoing in the case, rejected claims that the prime minister had sought to help Bezeq as part of a quid pro quo deal.

“The claims against Prime Minister Netanyahu are baseless. All of the decisions were made for relevant reasons and are based on professional opinions, committees and legal advice,” the sources said on Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aboard the new submarine ‘Rahav’ at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Last month, police recommended that the prime minister be indicted for a series of serious corruption charges including bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in two other cases.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, amounting to some NIS 1 million ($282,000) worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian resort owner James Packer in return for certain benefits.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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