After police questioning, Netanyahu denies illicit deal in Bezeq corruption case

Prime minister investigated for 10th time by Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit; company’s controlling shareholder Elovitch also interrogated

Police investigators arrive at the entrance to the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on July 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police investigators arrive at the entrance to the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on July 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied Tuesday that he had promoted regulation benefiting a media tycoon in exchange for favorable news coverage, after he was questioned for over four hours at his residence by police interrogators as part of the Bezeq graft investigation.

The prime minister was interrogated by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, police said, “with the assistance of the state attorney and the approval of the attorney general,” police said, not specifying the topic of the questioning.

The interrogation, which began shortly after 10 a.m., continued until early afternoon.

The Bezeq probe, known as Case 4000, involves suspicions that Netanyahu, who has also served as communications minister for several years over his past two terms as prime minster, advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for flattering coverage of the Netanyahus from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing in Case 4000, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

Following the questioning, the Netanyahu family spokesman released a statement denying any wrongdoing and calling allegations of a deal with Elovich “baseless.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has never made a deal with Elovitch in exchange for sympathetic coverage,” the statement said.

Netanyahu claims that as opposed to the allegations, “Walla has consistently provided negative coverage” of the prime minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 8, 2018 (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

“This negative coverage culminated in a flood of virulent articles on the eve of the 2015 elections, in an attempt to persuade the public to vote against him. This is exactly the period of time when he is accused of having allegedly made the [deal],” the statement added.

In the morning, as police arrived at the residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, a small group of protesters outside of the building held up a huge banner reading “Crime minister.”

Protesters outside the Prime Minister’s Residence hold a sign reading “Crime Minister’ as police investigators arrive to question Benjamin Netanyahu, July 10, 2018.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Elovitch was also questioned at the same time as Netanyahu, and according to Hebrew media reports continued after police finished with the prime minister. Sara Netanyahu and the couple’s son Yair have both been questioned  previously in the case but did not face interrogators on Tuesday.

The interrogation reportedly covered audio recordings handed over by state witness Nir Hefetz, a former senior aide to the prime minister, with Netanyahu being asked to respond to testimony given against him by a number of other key witnesses.

Evidence provided to police by Hefetz reportedly shows that mutually beneficial actions by Netanyahu and Elovitch were not incidental; rather, both parties were fully aware that they were acting as part of an illicit quid pro quo deal.

Netanyahu said that “nothing new was presented” to him during the questioning.

He also denied that he provided special treatment to Bezeq or Elovitch.

“There is not one case that was presented to the prime minister in which — as minister of communications — he did not sign the recommendations of the professionals. And so he did in this case as well,” his statement added.

The interrogation was Netanyahu’s fourth in the case and his 10th overall since the beginning of 2017, when police first questioned him regarding other corruption suspicions.

The state prosecution is currently considering whether to indict the prime minister in two other corruption probes, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000, after police in February recommended putting Netanyahu on trial in both.

Former media adviser to the prime minister Nir Hefetz arrives for a remand hearing in Case 4000 at the Tel Aviv District Court, February 22, 2018 (Flash90)

Hefetz, a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family, is the third confidant of the premier to turn state’s witness in the various cases against him, joining former Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber and former chief of staff Ari Harow.

Hefetz is said to have provided officials with further evidence in Cases 1000 and 2000 as well.

In Case 1000, in which Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, Hefetz reportedly provided investigators with names of additional patrons of the couple, seemingly strengthening the case that their alleged misdeeds were part of a pattern.

In Case 2000, which involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes, Hefetz was said to have provided names of additional figures involved in the conversations between the two.

Police are planning to interrogate Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in relation to Case 2000 as new information has come to light that the movie mogul allegedly mediated between Netanyahu and Mozes in 2009, the Kan public broadcaster reported Monday. Milchan is also a central figure in Case 1000.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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