New details were published Wednesday evening regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alleged quid pro quo deal with a newspaper publisher for favorable coverage in exchange for limiting a rival paper.
Netanyahu’s dealings with Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the widely circulated Yedioth Ahronoth daily and the popular Ynet website, were the subject of a police investigation known as Case 2000. The prime minister now faces an indictment on charges of fraud and breach of trust in the case, pending a hearing.
A day after Netanyahu’s lawyers collected investigation material in the three cases against the premier, Channel 12 published transcripts of leaked conversations between him and Mozes.
In recordings of the meetings, Mozes can reportedly be heard admitting slanting coverage against Netanyahu’s election rivals and “hiding” negative articles about the premier’s wife, while urging the prime minister to file a libel lawsuit and figuratively “kill” a Yedioth writer who is a fierce Netanyahu critic.
According to the report, Mozes told his interrogators that he had been meeting Netanyahu since 1996. He said that in 2013 the premier had asked him to help form a coalition, believing he had influence over election results and over the leaders of his potential coalition partners at the time, Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.
The TV channel said that in a recording from December 2014 — ahead of the March 2015 elections — Netanyahu can be heard complaining to Mozes that Lapid and Bennett were being handled with kids’ gloves in Yedioth and Ynet.
They also discussed Netanyahu’s desire to ensure that Bennett win “under 15” seats in the election (Jewish Home eventually won eight, but was projected at the time for as much as 17).
In another recording Mozes tells Netanyahu his media outlets have been burying negative reports on the premier’s wife, Sara, whom Netanyahu has for years complained is unfairly treated by the media.
“This story was hidden as much as we could in the newspaper,” Mozes tells Netanyahu on one story regarding a former caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence who sued Sara for mistreatment.
Mozes was also said to tell police investigators that the two discussed raising newspaper costs, as well as Mozes’s desire to curb the success of rival newspaper Israel Hayom, a firm and consistent backer of Netanyahu.
During the two recorded meetings between Netanyahu and Mozes they also reportedly discussed Yedioth journalists. The report cited one such instance regarding Igal Sarna, a Netanyahu critic who on one occasion was sued by the prime minister for defamation.
“Igal Sarna I don’t want at all,” Mozes is said to have told Netanyahu. “Do whatever you want with him, send him a letter tomorrow, kill [him]… I wish you get money out of him. Get whatever you want out of him.”
The illicit agreement that would have seen the premier economically hobble Israel Hayom was never implemented.
The pro-Netanyahu newspaper, which is distributed free of charge, has diminished Yedioth Ahronoth’s market share, although it remains Israel’s top-selling daily newspaper.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has decided to file fraud and breach of trust charges in the case, pending a hearing. Similar charges are pending in another probe known as Case 1000, and bribery charges are pending in Case 4000.
Netanyahu’s lawyers on Tuesday collected the case files in the three corruption investigations against him, after more than a month of refusing to accept the material. A pre-indictment hearing is currently scheduled to take place no later than July 10, though the defense teams has requested a delay.
Insisting he has done nothing wrong, Netanyahu has argued that the media, the opposition and the police had mounted a “witch hunt” against him and relentlessly pushed a “weak” attorney general to indict him in the corruption cases.