After completing the latest round of questioning by police Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is certain Case 4000 has collapsed permanently,” a statement on his behalf said. Police officials rejected the premier’s claim.
In the case, Netanyahu is suspected of advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, despite opposition from the Communication Ministry’s career officials. Police suspect that in exchange he received positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.
“The data proves unequivocally that the coverage of Netanyahu in ‘Walla’ under Elovitch remained as negative as it was when ‘Walla’ was owned by [Haaretz owner] Amos Shoken, and did not change in the slightest when Netanyahu became communications minister,” the statement said.
“In fact it is other communications ministers who, upon assuming the position, received a huge boost in positive coverage — not just in ‘Walla’ but in leading Israeli media platforms.
The fact that Netanyahu did not receive such a boost was “another reason” Case 4000 “is disintegrating,” it asserted.
The statement did not give details on what information Netanyahu provided investigators.
Police officials rejected the premier’s assertion, telling Hadashot TV news the evidence against Netanyahu remained strong. His responses to investigators’ questions, though apparently well-prepared, did nothing to change the severity of suspicions against him, they said.
Hadashot said officials in the Israel Police as well as in the state prosecution believe the case against the prime minister is “solid.”
Police said Elovitch was also questioned again in the case on Friday.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also testified in the case this week. Erdan, who served as communications minister between 2013-2014, was said to give investigators information on the workings of the ministry and his policies as minister.
According to Channel 10 News, police confronted Netanyahu Friday with allegations that he fired former Communications Ministry director-general Avi Berger in 2015 and replaced him with Shlomo Filber — now also a suspect in the case — at Elovitch’s request. Berger, under Erdan, had pushed for reforms to open up the communications market which would have benefited Bezeq’s rivals.
Netanyahu is said to have denied the suspicions.
Friday’s four-hour questioning by police at the Prime Minister’s Residence, the 11th the prime minister has faced over a series of corruption probes, came amid media reports that police were leaning towards recommending a bribery indictment against him in the case.
Netanyahu has vehemently denied accusations of impropriety and insisted all his regulatory decisions affecting Bezeq were in keeping with the recommendations of the Communications Ministry’s professional echelons.
On Tuesday, an unnamed source said to be familiar with the progress in the case told Hadashot television news that the evidence is expected to be deemed by police as sufficient to charge the prime minister with bribery.
Friday’s questioning was expected to be the last relating to Case 4000. However he is still to answer further questions in Cases 1000 and 2000, two investigations in which police have already recommended bribery indictments. The new rounds of questioning follow investigators’ discovery of new evidence in the case provided by former Netanyahu media adviser and confidant-turned-state witness, Nir Hefetz.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors in exchange for favors. 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.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in all of the cases, insisting the gifts were given by friends and were not bribes, and that he never intended to act on his conversations with Mozes.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who will make the final decision whether to indict the prime minister, reportedly intends to examine all three cases at the same time — which will be possible only after he receives the state attorney’s recommendations based on the final police reports.
That process puts the likely date of any final word on whether a trial may be in Netanyahu’s future in late 2019, possibly after the next Knesset elections. The next elections are currently slated for November 2019, but may very well be held earlier.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.