Dramatic developments in the Bezeq corruption probe in recent days, including the arrest of the company’s CEO and of the suspended director-general of the Communications Ministry, were reportedly sparked by recordings delivered to investigators by a key witness in the case.
According to Hebrew-language media reports Thursday, the CEO of the Walla news site, Ilan Yeshua, recorded the website’s owner, Shaul Elovitch, who is also the majority shareholder of the Bezeq telecom giant, ordering him to slant coverage in favor of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family.
The recordings were handed over by Yeshua to investigators in recent days, who apparently played them to another suspect in the investigation, Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber, who has recently agreed to testify in the case.
According to sources at the Securities Authority, the recordings in the end “broke” Filber, convincing him to turn state’s witness. Filber is said to have signed an agreement Tuesday night that protects him from criminal prosecution in exchange for information that reportedly ties Netanyahu to regulatory decisions favoring Bezeq taken by the Communications Ministry. Police suspect the benefits to Bezeq were given in exchange for favorable coverage of the Netanyahus in Walla, one of Israel’s largest Hebrew-language news websites.
Yeshua is said to have suspected dirty dealings when Elovitch began pressuring him to offer more favorable coverage of Netanyahu. These suspicions led him to record Elovitch making the demands.
“The recording was one of the key things that led Filber to break and turn state’s witness,” one Securities Authority official told the Ynet news site.
Meanwhile, police investigators are continuing to work to convince Netanyahu’s key adviser, Nir Hefetz, the go-between who allegedly negotiated the suspected quid pro quo between Netanyahu and Elovitch, to also turn state’s witness. Hefetz and Elovitch were confronted with Yeshua’s recordings, and with Yeshua himself, on Wednesday at the offices of the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit of the Israel Police in its Lod headquarters.
The so-called “Case 4000” investigation began as a Securities Authority probe into decisions by the Communications Ministry that consistently and dramatically benefited Bezeq.
Filber himself was suspended from his position as director of the Communications Ministry in the wake of a State Ombudsman report in July that found possible conflicts of interest in his handling of regulatory issues related to Bezeq, including the suspicion that he leaked documents from the ministry, the chief regulatory agency for Israel media and telecom industries, to Bezeq executives.
Once evidence of possible bribery surfaced in these investigations, the police’s top investigative body was called in and the investigation became a criminal one.
The case has also embroiled Bezeq CEO Stella Handler and deputy CEO for business development Amikam Shorer, both of whom are under arrest and saw their remanded extended on Wednesday for another six days.
In granting the police’s request to extend their remand, the Jerusalem District Court judge overseeing the case wrote on Wednesday: “One can say with confidence that this is a case that raises more than just a substantiated suspicion of serious corruption. These acts were allegedly committed by senior office-holders in government and the Bezeq corporation.”
The case also includes suspicions against Elovitch’s wife Iris and son Or. All three Elovitches and Hefetz are slated to appear at a remand hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Thursday afternoon.