Officials involved in the investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Bezeq corruption probe said Friday he will be hard-pressed to explain away the “concrete” suspicions and “solid” evidence against him, Hadashot TV news reported.
Officials also told Hadashot that suspicions against Netanyahu in the investigation, known as Case 4000, are more serious than those ascribed to him in previous cases 1000 and 2000 — in both of which police have recommended he be indicted for fraud, breach of trust and bribery.
Police investigators believe the evidence they have, including testimonies, physical evidence and audio tapes, directly ties Netanyahu and his wife to the alleged crimes, according to Hadashot.
One unnamed source told the TV station the case has “a very clear bottom line,” and that investigators do not see a way for Netanyahu to explain the evidence gathered against him.
Another said the prime minster had been caught lying in previous rounds of questioning — relating to the investigations of cases 1000 and 2000.
According to the report, Netanyahu and his wife Sara, who were questioned separately in the Bezeq probe on Friday for five hours each, are both likely to face further interrogation in the case.
The Bezeq case, also known as Case 4000, involves suspicions that Shaul Elovitch, chief shareholder of telecommunications giant Bezeq, ordered the Walla news site, which he also owns, to grant fawning coverage to the Netanyahus in exchange for the prime minister’s advancement of regulations benefiting him.
Investigators questioned Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem Friday morning, while his wife Sara was interrogated separately for five hours at the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit’s headquarters in Lod.
Hebrew media reported that the two were questioned under caution as suspects in the case. Asked to confirm whether the prime minister or his wife were being treated as criminal suspects, a police spokesman remained vague, telling The Times of Israel only that the interrogations took place “in general as part of the investigation.”
At the same time as questioning Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, police also brought in suspects Elovitch and Nir Hefetz for another round of questioning in the case, and also interrogated a former official at the Communications Ministry.
Channel 10 news reported that the prime minister was presented with audio tapes of Elovitch and Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua discussing coverage of the Netanyahus, as well as Whatsapp messages his wife sent to Elovitch’s wife Iris in which she pressed her to take down negative coverage of the couple.
Netanyahu is said to have responded that he discussed Walla’s coverage with Elovitch on several occasions, but denied that he had ever promised him benefits in return for changing the site’s reporting.
Sara Netanyahu, meanwhile, reportedly told investigators her husband had not been aware of her messages to Iris Elovitch. She claimed she had asked her to improve coverage as a friend, and that she had never has a hand in dealings related to Bezeq.
The prime minister said after completing his questioning Friday that he felt “more sure than ever before” that “nothing” will come of the latest corruption investigation.
In a video and text statement posted on Facebook (Hebrew), Netanyahu said he felt “more sure than ever before — there will be nothing.”
Confidants told Channel 10 the premier “answered all the questions he was asked” and “feels very good about the investigation.”
Netanyahu in the video also thanked the “millions of Israeli citizens who express such strong support in me, my wife and my family. You warm our hearts. Thank you.”
Speaking at a hearing this week regarding Elovitch and Nir Hefetz — a former media adviser for the prime minister who has also been implicated in the case — state prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh of the Israel Securities Authority said that Netanyahu was at the center of “a very grave instance of giving and taking bribes.”
Earlier in the week, Channel 10 published a text message sent by Sara Netanyahu to Iris Elovitch, blasting coverage of the Netanyahus on Walla and urging her to “quickly” change it.
“You’re killing us. You’re slaughtering us. You’re destroying the state. What type of site is this?” Sara Netanyahu wrote in a WhatsApp message at an unspecified time, according to the report. “Change this. Do something with this. You’re the owners of the site. This should happen quickly.”
In another text, Netanyahu reportedly asked Elovitch why Walla editor Aviram Elad had not yet been fired.
Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of the Communications Ministry and a longtime Netanyahu confidant, signed a deal last week to turn state’s witness and possibly incriminate Netanyahu in the affair.
Netanyahu served as communications minister from November 2014 to February 2017. During that time, Walla’s coverage notably changed to favor the Netanyahu family, and Bezeq was given permission, among other things, to buy the satellite cable provider Yes, overriding antitrust issues, and to renege on its commitment to lease out its infrastructure to other telecom companies so they could provide competing fixed line and internet services.
Sources close to Netanyahu, who himself has denied any wrongdoing in the case, rejected claims that the prime minister had sought to help Bezeq as part of a quid pro quo deal.
“The claims against Prime Minister Netanyahu are baseless. All of the decisions were made for relevant reasons and are based on professional opinions, committees and legal advice,” the sources said on Monday.
Last month, police recommended that the prime minister be indicted for a series of serious corruption charges including bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in two other cases.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, amounting to some NIS 1 million ($282,000) worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian resort owner James Packer in return for certain benefits.
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 denies any wrongdoing in these cases.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.