During a police interrogation on Monday, the prime minister’s wife Sara Netanyahu reportedly refused to be confronted by two state’s witnesses as authorities sought to prove the prime minister advanced legislation benefiting a media tycoon in return for coverage flattering of the Netanyahus.
While the prime minister faced investigators at his official residence in Jerusalem for four hours, Sara and Yair Netanyahu were interviewed in the police’s Lahav 433 national fraud unit headquarters in the city of Lod, reportedly for over six hours.
Hebrew media initially reported that, as part of the interrogation, Sara Netanyahu was questioned in the presence of two state’s witnesses — former top Netanyahu adviser Nir Hefetz and former Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber.
However, the prime minister took to Facebook to decry the reports as “fake news,” saying that reporters were inventing events that never happened.
Shortly afterwards, Channel 10 news reported that police had brought Hefez and Filber to the national fraud unit headquarters, but Sara Netanyahu would not face them. Legally, suspect have the right to refuse to face a witness, in the same way that they have the right to remain silent.
Although she refused the confrontation, police showed her text messages and recordings provided by the two witnesses. Hefez and Filber remained in a separate room and police reportedly went back and forth from the interrogation to the pair to help police with their questioning in real time, and compare the Netanyahus’ version of events with that of Hefez and Filber.
At the heart of the questioning were the instructions allegedly received by Hefez and Filber from the suspects, as well as suspicions that Sara Netanyahu obstructed justice, after she allegedly deleted text messages relevant to the case.
Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris were also questioned at the police complex in connection Case 4000. Reportedly, they faced Hefez and were questioned directly with him in the room.
After the questioning, the prime minister released a Hebrew-language video on his Facebook page in which he asserted that he had “complete certainty” that he would be cleared, and repeated his refrain that: “There won’t be anything, because there was nothing.”
אני רוצה לאחל לכולכם חג פסח כשר ושמח.תהנו עם המשפחות שלכם. אני אהנה עם המשפחה שלי. אני אחגוג את החג הזה בשמחה גדולה, בביטחון גדול, עם הרבה חרוסת ואפס מרור.
Posted by Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו on Monday, 26 March 2018
He ended the video by wishing everyone a happy Passover, which begins on Friday evening. He added that he will be enjoying the festival “with great joy, with great confidence, with lots of charoset and zero bitter herbs.” Charoset is a sweet dip used to symbolize the mortar with which the Israelites worked for Pharaoh, while the bitter herbs represent the harshness of the slavery.
Following the questioning, police and the Israel Securities Authority issued a joint statement confirming that the three family members had been questioned for a number of hours. The statement also stressed that “the investigation is being conducted with the supervision and oversight of the state attorney and with the approval of the attorney general.”
The prime minister and his wife were last questioned earlier this month in the Bezeq probe, which involves suspicions that Netanyahu, who has served as communications minister for several years over his past two terms as premier, advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Elovitch in exchange for flattering coverage of the Netanyahus from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.
Days later, Hefetz, a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family, turned state’s witness in the investigation. He became the third Netanyahu confidant to do so in cases involving the premier, joining Shlomo Filber and former chief of staff Ari Harow.
In addition to Case 4000, Netanyahu is also 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 cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian resort owner James Packer, allegedly 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 has not been named as a suspect in another investigation, Case 3000, but there have been reports that police are considering questioning him under caution about the case.
Case 3000 involves suspected corruption in the multi-billion-shekel purchase of submarines and other naval vessels from a German shipbuilder. The investigation has focused on suspicions that state officials were bribed to influence a decision to purchase four patrol boats and three Dolphin-class submarines costing a total of 2 billion euros from ThyssenKrupp, despite opposition to the deal from the Defense Ministry.
Police have clarified repeatedly that Netanyahu is not a suspect in Case 3000.
Netanyahu and his family have denied any wrongdoing in all of the cases.
Raoul Wootliff and Stuart Winer contributed to this report.