Investigators have reportedly reopened a corruption probe involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after obtaining new information on a suspected quid pro quo deal that would have bolstered the premier’s control over Israeli media.
After the move was approved several weeks ago by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Netanyahu is set give additional testimony, as are other key suspects and witnesses in the case, including Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes, Israeli TV reported on Wednesday.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed freebie Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Under the alleged agreement between Mozes and Netanyahu — which was not implemented — the prime minister said he would advance legislation to curb the circulation of Israel Hayom if Mozes instructed his reporters and op-ed writers to soften their often negative stance toward him.
The fresh development came after Nir Hefetz, a former spokesperson for the Netanyahu family who signed a deal to turn state witness and testify against the prime minister, provided new evidence, documents and recordings relating to the legislative process of the proposal to hobble Israel Hayom in 2014.
The new evidence is regarded by law enforcement authorities as significant, Channel 10 reported. They will now reopen the case, over which police had already submitted their conclusions to the attorney general, recommending that the prime minister be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
The new materials provided by Hefetz include recordings of the prime minister’s wife Sara and of their son, Yair, according to public broadcaster Kan.
Hefetz can be heard in the new recordings speaking to people who haven’t been questioned yet in the case, television reports said.
Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel, who proposed the Israel Hayom bill, is said to be among those summoned for additional questioning after inconsistencies were found in his previous accounts to police.
His fellow party member, MK Tzipi Livni, will also be summoned to give testimony, though she is not a suspect in the case.
“Police have concluded that there is sufficient evidence against the prime minister in this case for the offense of bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” read the police recommendations published last February.
Starting 2009, “Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes held conversations and personal meetings during which they discussed helping each other as a quid pro quo to advance their respective interests,” said police.
Furthermore, the investigation revealed “that the sides took actual active steps in advancing each other’s interests in continuation of the understandings reached between them, or at least presented to each other as if they had acted that way.”
Police said that Netanyahu offered his support for possible measures including closing Israel Hayom, helping to shrink the newspaper’s circulation numbers, and nixing the free daily’s weekend edition. The law did not pass, as the government folded and went to elections in 2015.
In addition “the prime minister acted as an agent for the Yedioth Ahronoth publisher with other business people, in the purchase of Yedioth Ahronoth, while he was communications minister,” police said.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
Yedioth, once the country’s largest tabloid, is often seen as critical of Netanyahu.
Since its founding a decade ago, Israel Hayom has consistently supported the prime minister. Its unfailing backing of Netanyahu has been characterized by the playing down of his failures, the hyping of his achievements and the lashing of his critics. Furthermore, it has shied away from praising his rivals.
Forced by a Supreme Court order to reveal the dates of his phone calls with the owner and chief editor of a newspaper seen as staunchly loyal to him, Netanyahu revealed last year that in 2012-2015 he spoke with American Jewish casino mogul Sheldon Adelson almost once a week and nearly twice that often with then-Israel Hayom editor Amos Regev.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.