Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson reportedly told Israeli police on Thursday that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never discussed a quid pro quo media deal at the heart of a corruption probe against the prime minister.
Adelson, who was in Israel for the visit of US President Donald Trump, was questioned by police who are investigating the so-called Case 2000 in which Netanyahu and Arnon “Noni” Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, are suspected of hatching a deal under which the prime minister would advance legislation to reduce the free, pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily’s circulation in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
According to Hebrew media, Adelson, who is not a suspect, told investigators that Netanyahu never spoke to him about his conversations with Mozes, nor about the so-called “Israel Hayom Bill” proposed by Labor MK Eitan Cabel to make it illegal to distribute a full-sized newspaper for free — a proposal to which the prime minister was so opposed, some reports have claimed, that he called new elections in 2015.
Adelson, who has been a staunch backer of Netanyahu and who donated millions to the Trump campaign, is the driving force behind the firmly pro-Netanyahu “Israel Hayom” paper.
Adelson went on to say that Netanyahu had never talked to him about advertising prices or circulation figures of the paper. The interview lasted some three hours and police were weighing whether to summon Netanyahu for a further round of questioning in light of what Adelson told them, Channel 2 reported.
In the recordings, Netanyahu and Mozes reportedly referred to Adelson as “the gingy [redhead].”
Channel 2 News reported in January that Mozes had provided evidence showing that Netanyahu wielded huge influence over Israel Hayom — evidence that suggested the prime minister plays an active role in the Israeli media and contradicted an affidavit he gave stating that he did “not have, and has never had, any ties of control or any other organizational ties, in any form, with Israel Hayom, or with newspaper staff or journalists writing for it, that would influence the paper’s editorial considerations or its contents.”
Police had wanted to question Adelson for some time, hoping to establish whether the Netanyahu-Mozes conversations were ever translated into action.
Their opportunity came when Adelson and his Israeli-born wife Miriam arrived in Israel to coincide with Trump’s visit to the country on Monday and Tuesday this week.
The couple attended the final speeches Netanyahu and Trump gave at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on Tuesday just before the US leader left the country.
The Adelsons reportedly extended their stay for a few days after the US president left in order to speak to police.
Netanyahu is currently the focus of two graft investigations. He has denied all the allegations against him.