Investigators are in possession of correspondence between Sara Netanyahu and the wife of a business tycoon that appear to implicate the prime minister’s wife in the burgeoning Bezeq corruption scandal, Channel 10 News reported Thursday.
Both Netanyahus will be interrogated under caution on Friday in connection with the Bezeq case, also known as Case 4000, which involves suspicions that Shaul Elovitch, chief shareholder of telecommunications giant Bezeq, ordered the Walla news site, which he also owns, to grant positive coverage to the Netanyahus in exchange for the prime minister’s advancement of regulations benefiting him.
Earlier this week, Channel 10 reported on Whatsapp messages that Sara Netanyahu sent to Iris Elovitch, Shaul’s wife, complaining about Walla’s coverage and asking why a certain Walla editor had not yet been fired.
According to Thursday’s report, police also possess messages between the two women that relate to the benefits extended to Bezeq — the payback that the prime minister is suspected of having given Elovitch in return for positive coverage by Walla.
This, said the TV channel, turns Sara Netanyahu into a suspect in the case.
Channel 10 also reported Thursday that police have a recording of a conversation dating back to the last elections in which Elovitch talked to Walla’s CEO Ilan Yeshua about a particular article and said something to the effect of, “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is making an effort for us. We have to make an effort too.”
Elovitch’s lawyer, Jacques Chen, denied such a conversation took place.
Elovitch himself, under interrogation, said he had perhaps tried to please the Netanyahus or to do something to avoid annoying them, but that nothing was done under Netanyahu’s direction.
It was recordings provided to police by Yeshua that reportedly persuaded another suspect in the case, former Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber, to turn state’s witness in the case.
Sara Netanyahu will be questioned from 8:30 am at Israel Police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit in Lod. Officers will meanwhile visit her husband at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem at 10 a.m.
Police are expected to play the prime minister the recording of conversations between Walla’s Yeshua, and Elovitch, Channel 10 said.
Benjamin Netanyahu called the new claims “fake news,” and repeated claims that the allegations against Sara Netanyahu were intended to besmirch him and topple the Likud-led government.
The prime minister was first named on Tuesday as one of the people believed to have been involved in bribery within the framework of Case 4000. State prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh of the Israel Securities Authority said that in his previous role as communications minister, Netanyahu was at the center of “a very grave instance of giving and taking bribes.”
“I have no way of properly describing the benefit [he received],” she said. “We are talking about enlisting a leading news site to provide adulating coverage in return for regulatory benefits given by the Communications Ministry, the minister of communications, and the director-general of the Communications Ministry,” she said.
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 telecom competitors so they could provide competing fixed line and internet services.
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.
Hadashot TV reported earlier this week that Netanyahu was also expected to testify Friday in a separate probe, known as Case 3000, in which he has not been named a suspect. That case involves suspected corruption in the multi-billion-shekel purchase of submarines and other naval vessels from a German shipbuilder
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in all of the cases.
TOI staff contributed to this report.