Prosecutors filed an amended indictment on Sunday in the corruption cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after the Jerusalem District Court accepted the premier’s lawyers’ claim that the original indictment lacked important details.
The court ordered the state last month to clearly distinguish Netanyahu from his wife and children in the charge sheet, and detail a list of instances in which the premier and his family allegedly made requests from media tycoon Shaul Elovitch for favorable changes to coverage in the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.
In exchange for helpful coverage, Netanyahu allegedly granted regulatory favors benefiting Elovitch’s business interests. In the case, known as Case 4000, Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, and Shaul Elovitch and his wife, Iris, are charged with bribery. It is seen as the most serious of the three corruption cases against Netanyahu.
Walla is one of Israel’s leading online news outlets.
In their ruling last month, the judges instructed prosecutors to significantly amend the indictment to clearly distinguish Netanyahu from his family members, as well as Shaul Elovitch from his wife.
Netanyahu’s lawyers have complained that the premier in many cases was grouped with his family in supposed demands from Elovitch to make various changes in Walla’s coverage. They said it was not clear why Netanyahu must answer for demands allegedly made by his wife or son.
The detailed list includes 315 specific requests to change Walla’s coverage in favor of Netanyahu and his family. The requests constitute a “gift” in the alleged “bribery relationship,” between the defendants, the indictment claims.
Prosecutors say there are indications that the prime minister himself was personally involved in some 150 of the demands, and that he was aware that other members of his family were making requests of Elovitch “at a considerable scale and in a consistent manner.”
The alleged demands include changing the wording of articles to be more favorable toward Netanyahu, extending the airtime and prominence of positive stories, deleting or editing headlines that were unfavorable, publishing more negative stories about political rivals, and refraining from publishing an interview conducted with Netanyahu.
The amended indictment also alleges the news outlet’s “self-censored against the background of the demands.”
Responding to the updated indictment, Netanyahu on Sunday said the “balloon of Case 4000 has burst.”
“The prosecution barely managed to find 10 media requests from the prime minister to Walla in four years, an average of one request every half a year, during a time in which 10,000 articles were written about the prime minister in Walla,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
He appeared to be referring to cases the prosecutors said he had made personally, and not “been involved” in. He said other requests referred to by prosecutors were routine inquiries made by spokespeople, such as clarifying coverage of his meetings with world leaders.
“It’s absurd the prosecution defines these routine actions by spokespeople as criminal acts,” Netanyahu said. “And the height of absurdity — nowhere on earth has an indictment been filed against a public figure because of media coverage. This is what happens when they try in every way to stick a case against a strong right-wing government leader.”
In Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of an illicit quid pro quo with Elovitch that continued for about four years, until early 2017. The alleged understanding saw Elovitch ensure more favorable coverage of Netanyahu at Walla, and critical coverage of Netanyahu’s rivals, especially in the 2013 and 2015 election periods.
Prosecutors say that, in return, Netanyahu intervened in regulatory and other business decisions relating to Bezeq telecommunications company that benefited Elovitch to the tune of NIS 1.8 billion, some $500 million.
In the second case against the premier, Case 2000, the prime minister is accused of attempting to reach an agreement on positive news coverage with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Mozes, in return for pushing legislation to hobble rival newspaper, Israel Hayom. Mozes was charged with bribery in the case.
Netanyahu also faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000, which involves suspicions Netanyahu illicitly accepted some $200,000 in gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.
In another development, last week the Jerusalem District Court ordered prosecutors to hand over Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s authorization for police investigations into Netanyahu.
Prosecutors must provide the documentation to Netanyahu’s defense team within seven days.
The court’s ruling applies to cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, after lawyers for Netanyahu alleged that permission for the criminal probes — which must be granted by the attorney general — was given retroactively. Netanyahu’s attorneys have argued that if written authorization was not given, all the charges against him must be canceled.
Netanyahu’s trial opened in May. Though the prime minister attended the first hearing, he was granted an exemption from appearing at later, largely procedural stages of the trial.
Netanyahu, who is the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office, denies any wrongdoing and has railed against the courts, prosecution, and media for what he terms a “witch hunt.”
His lawyers have repeatedly moved to delay and discredit the proceedings, filing complaints against the prosecution, alleging “criminal tactics” had been used against them, calling for changing the indictment against the prime minister, and claiming that police investigators had used illegitimate means to secure evidence, thus disqualifying the charges.