A former top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly urged the owner of the Bezeq telecommunications company and his wife to eliminate text messages from Sara Netanyahu that incriminated them in a corruption case.
According to a report Monday by the Ynet news site, Nir Hefetz instructed Shaul and Iris Elovitch to “destroy their phones” as the Bezeq graft probe kicked off. The case involves suspicions the prime minister advanced regulations benefiting Elovitch in exchange for flattering coverage from the Walla news site, also owned by Elovitch.
“Erase the texts from Sara. Destroy the phone,” Hefetz is quoted as saying. “When the stories started to pop up, I understood everything needed to be erased. I told Shaul and Iris to erase the messages, destroy the phone. I destroyed mine.”
The report said that although Hefetz had broken his phone, he supplied investigators with other recordings upon turning state’s witness earlier this month.
Hefetz, who served as a media adviser to the Netanyahu family, is considered a central witness in the so-called Case 4000.
According to Ynet, Hefetz acted as the key point-man, bringing instructions from the prime minister regarding Bezeq to Shlomo Filber, the director-general of the Communications Ministry. Filber, another longtime Netanyahu confidant, has also turned state’s witness in the case.
The report said Hefetz also put Sara Netanyahu in touch with Iris Elovitch.
Channel 10 has previously reported that Sara Netanyahu had sent WhatsApp messages to Iris Elovitch complaining about Walla’s coverage and asking why a certain editor had not yet been fired.
The network also reported that police possess messages between the two women that relate to the alleged benefits extended to Bezeq in return for positive coverage by Walla.
This, said the TV channel, turned Sara Netanyahu into a suspect in the case.
The prime minister was first named in late February as one of the people believed to have been involved in bribery in 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.
The prime minister was set to be questioned in the case Monday, but police said Sunday the interrogation had been pushed off. The postponement was due to Netanyahu’s strep throat, Hebrew media reported.
In addition to Case 4000, Netanyahu is suspected of wrongdoing in so-called cases 1000 and 2000, in which police have recommended he be indicted for bribery, breach of trust and fraud.
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 lavish goods 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 and his family have denied wrongdoing in all of the cases.