An Israeli business tycoon at the center of a graft case involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to acknowledge swaying media coverage to the premier’s benefit ahead of general elections in 2015, in transcripts aired Friday by Israeli television.
Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch faces possible bribery charges in Case 4000, which revolves around suspicions Netanyahu pushed regulatory decisions benefiting Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site.
In undated transcripts published by Channel 12 news, the latest in a long series of leaks from within the investigations, Elovitch seemingly referred to Netanyahu’s efforts on his behalf while speaking with Walla’s CEO Ilan Yeshua, who reportedly recorded conversations with Elovitch and later handed them over to police investigators.
“What he [Netanyahu] does… I would never believe he could do things like that,” Elovitch was quoted telling Yeshua. “He goes against everyone, on everything, from small to large. I feel obliged all the time.”
Yeshua responded: “That’s why I came to work today.”
The two then appeared to discuss Walla’s coverage of Netanyahu ahead of the March 2015 elections and the news site’s compliance with requests from the prime minister.
“I heard from someone, that doctor who is his friend, who is there at the house all the time. He told me that he [Netanyahu] is prepared to kill himself for me,” Elovitch said. It was not clear who he was referring to.
In response, Yeshua said, “listen, you brought him the elections. That’s no joke.”
Elovitch did not directly address Yeshua’s comments, saying “these aren’t abnormal requests they’re asking for. It’s completely normal.”
The transcripts included Elovitch appearing to discuss the firing of Avi Berger, the director-general of the Communications Ministry. Berger had opposed Bezeq’s purchase of the Yes satellite broadcaster from Elovitch’s Eurocom Group, which the businessman stood to earn substantially from. Berger was dismissed after Netanyahu took over as communications minister following the 2015 elections and replaced by Shlomo Filber, a confidante of the prime minister.
“You know what he left there,” Elovitch reportedly said of Berger’s tenure at the ministry.
“All the possible traps,” Yeshua responded.
Elovitch was quoted saying Filber would be a “bulldozer” and get things done. Filber later also turned state’s witness in the case.
On Wednesday, Channel 13 published leaked correspondences in which a former Netanyahu aide turned state’s witness in the case gave orders to Yeshua dictating Walla’s media coverage, with the latter asking for approval on journalist hires.
Nir Hefetz turned state’s witness after being arrested and questioned over a two-week period, and is believed to have provided prosecutors with key information about the period when he served as an informal interlocutor between Netanyahu and Elovitch.
According to that television report, Yeshua sent Hefetz a Walla interview with Netanyahu to edit before its publication — without the knowledge of the writer and editor. Ahead of the 2015 election, correspondence between the two showed Yeshua complying with Hefetz’s orders on whether to send push notifications and livestream a right-wing rally.
On Election Day in March 2015, Hefetz writes: “I showed Bibi [Netanyahu] the main headline. He’s thrilled.”
“The video you asked for is the main headline,” writes Yeshua, referring to Netanyahu’s now infamous “the Arabs are voting in droves” clip, for which the prime minister later apologized.
Hefetz also reportedly encouraged Yeshua to erase the correspondence, apparently realizing it could backfire.
“Obviously,” replied Yeshua to such a message from Hefetz. “I erase it every day.”
The conversations between Hefetz and Yeshua were reported hours after Justice Minister Amir Ohana broke a court-imposed gag order to claim that police pressured Hefetz to turn state’s witness by threatening to disclose an alleged extramarital affair. Hefetz denied the allegation, while Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Ohana was misrepresenting the events.
According to Israeli TV reports, Mandelblit is aiming to reach a decision by the end of November on whether to file charges against Netanyahu in the graft probes.
In a draft charge sheet issued in February, Mandelblit outlined charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust against the premier in Case 4000, and fraud and breach of trust in two other cases, dubbed by police Case 1000 and Case 2000.
Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution designed to oust him from power.