State prosecutors on Wednesday were set to hold a pre-indictment hearing for the first suspect in the Bezeq corruption probe, a sprawling case in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to face charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust later this year.
Businessman Ze’ev Rubinstein will plead his case to prosecutors on Wednesday in Tel Aviv before a decision is made on whether to charge him as an accessory to bribery.
Netanyahu is scheduled to attend his own pre-indictment hearing in the case on October 2-3, which will also cover two other corruption probes against him in which the prime minister faces additional fraud and breach of trust charges. The other suspects in the Bezeq case, Shaul and Iris Elovitch, were summoned for their respective hearings set for August 15, while Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes will also be granted a last-ditch effort to fend off criminal charges in Case 2000, though a date has not yet been announced.
The attorney general will be present at Netanyahu’s hearing only.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s lengthy description of Netanyahu’s alleged illicit dealings with Shaul Elovitch — the majority shareholder in Israel’s biggest telecom firm Bezeq, and the owner of the Walla website — took up the majority of the 57-page document released in February in which Mandelblit set out the allegations that prompted him to announce a criminal indictment against the prime minister, pending a hearing.
In the document sent to Netanyahu’s lawyers, Mandeblit spelled out what he said was an illicit quid pro quo relationship between Netanyahu and Elovitch that continued for about four years until early 2017, under which Elovitch ensured favorable coverage of Netanyahu at Walla, Israel’s second largest news site, and critical coverage of Netanyahu’s rivals, especially in the 2013 and 2015 election periods. Netanyahu also himself intervened regarding the material published by Walla, “sometimes even daily,” Mandelblit charged.
According to Mandelblit’s document (which can be read in full here), Rubinstein acted as one of the intermediaries between the Netanyahu family and the Elovitches and introduced them in 1999.
The attorney general accused Rubinstein of conveying various demands to Walla on behalf of the Netanyahus, including requests to place negative news items targeting right-wing party leader Naftali Bennett, and a story spotlighting the then-Jewish Home leader’s wife’s past employment at a non-kosher restaurant. Rubinstein was also cited in the document as complaining to Walla, at Sara Netanyahu’s behest, over its failure to feature photos of Netanyahu at former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s funeral, among other examples of alleged meddling.
Case 4000 is the most serious of the three investigations into the prime minister, as it includes a proposed bribery charge for both Netanyahu and Elovitch.
In Case 1000, involving accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors, Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust — the latter a somewhat murkily defined offense relating to an official violating the trust the public has placed in him. Milchan is not to be charged.
In Case 2000, involving accusations Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth, Mandelblit will seek to also charge the premier with breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery. The case is said to have been a contentious one in Mandelblit’s office, with many prosecution officials reportedly arguing that Netanyahu should be charged with bribery, while Mandelblit considered not charging the prime minister at all.
The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and claimed the investigations are part of efforts by the media, the Israeli left, the police and the state prosecution to remove him from power.