Netanyahu trial

In court, Likud’s Levin denies he met Netanyahu to discuss alleged bribery deal

PM said to be always opposed to 2014 bill to hamper Israel Hayom, which prosecutors say was part of a quid pro quo bid in exchange for positive coverage in rival newspaper

Justice Minister Yariv Levin arrives for a court hearing in the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem District Court on May 21, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin arrives for a court hearing in the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem District Court on May 21, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Yariv Levin testified Tuesday in the corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, denying that a key alleged meeting between them regarding a proposed illicit quid pro quo deal had taken place.

Levin testified as part of the proceedings in Case 2000, in which the premier is charged with fraud and breach of trust — one of three ongoing cases against him.

The prime minister faces accusations that he attempted to reach a quid pro quo for positive media coverage in the leading Yedioth Ahronoth daily in exchange for legislation weakening rival newspaper Israel Hayom.

Levin, of the ruling Likud party, told the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court that Netanyahu had always been opposed to the so-called Israel Hayom bill.

He denied any knowledge of the prime minister having allegedly struck a deal with Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, who is also on trial and accused of bribery in the case.

In his testimony, Levin — who chaired the Knesset’s House Committee at the time — said that Netanyahu had given him “clear instructions” not to allow the bill to pass into law.

The prime minister was publicly opposed to the bill, and at one point claimed that he had disbanded his government in opposition to it. Levin, however, said in court that the bill was unrelated to that government’s dissolution in 2014.

The justice minister also told the court he felt threatened during a previous interrogation by the police. “I felt that they were trying to force things out of me that didn’t happen or that I don’t remember,” he said.

Prosecutors allege that in December 2014, Mozes offered Netanyahu more favorable coverage in exchange for the passage of the bill which would force Israel Hayom, a widely circulated free newspaper that at the time was widely seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, to charge a price.

“Although you had not asked for a bribe or set one as a condition, you did not turn down Mozes’s offer,” the prosecution alleged in Netanyahu’s charge sheet. “Instead, you continued to hold a long and detailed conversation with him about the components of the bribe that he offered you.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen leaving the Jerusalem District Court, where he listened to the testimony, via video from Brighton, England, of businessman Arnon Milchan in the prime minister’s corruption trial, June 26, 2023 (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/Flash90)

The state alleges that following the initial meeting in which Mozes and the prime minister discussed the proposed quid pro quo, Netanyahu met with Levin and then-coalition whip Ze’ev Elkin to discuss advancing the legislation.

Levin denied that this meeting took place. “I don’t remember any such thing,” he testified today, in comments reported by Hebrew media.

The now-justice minister agreed that he and his political allies had paid attention to Yedioth Ahronoth’s coverage of Netanyahu, which was generally negative.

“The prime minister thought that part of his job was to diversify the marketplace of ideas in the press,” Levin said. “It was a clear agenda of ours as a party.”

Levin also confirmed that Mozes had discussed Israel Hayom in meetings, telling the court that “Mozes saw something existential in it,” and adding that the publisher had wanted Netanyahu to intervene in the free daily.

“The public assumption was that Israel Hayom served the prime minister,” Levin said. “I personally am not sure that’s true, and I wasn’t sure that it was true then.”

Apart from the fraud and breach of trust allegations against him in Case 2000, Netanyahu is on trial for two additional counts of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000, which concerns gifts he allegedly inappropriately received from billionaire benefactors. He is charged with bribery, as well as fraud and breach of trust, in Case 4000, also known as the Bezeq-Walla case, which focuses on allegations that Netanyahu authorized regulatory decisions that financially benefited Bezeq telecommunications giant shareholder Shaul Elovitch by hundreds of millions of shekels. In return, Netanyahu allegedly received favorable media coverage from the Walla news site, also owned by Elovitch.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in the cases against him and claims that the charges were fabricated in a witch hunt led by the police and state prosecution, and facilitated by a weak attorney general.

Most Popular
read more: