A Tel Aviv resident was arrested after phoning suspects in the Bezeq corruption probe — in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been named a suspect — and identifying himself as a police officer and giving them false information about the investigation, police said on Thursday.
The 45-year-old man, who police said was known to them for fraud crimes, was said to have impersonated an official in Israel Police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit over the last few days, and to have told the suspects he has information that indicates that an unfair investigation had been held and that could prove their innocence.
The Bezeq probe involves suspicions that Netanyahu, who served as communications minister for several years over his past two terms as premier, advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israel’s largest telecommunications firm Bezeq, in exchange for flattering coverage of the Netanyahus from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.
Police haven’t named the suspects that the arrested man had called.
The unnamed suspect was taken to the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court for a hearing.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu’s wife and son filed a complaint with the Justice Ministry, calling for the investigation of alleged leaks from their police interrogation this week as part of the Bezeq probe.
Yossi Cohen, who represents Sara and Yair Netanyahu, sent a letter to the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department demanding a probe to determine “who leaked the false information that found its way to the media,” and claiming that reports about the investigation contained information known only to his clients and the police.
“As the questioning was taking place, facts were being published that no one could have known other than interrogators,” Cohen wrote in his letter, adding however, that “immediately after the investigation was completed, a dance of false demons began, orchestrated around their interrogation, in the media.”
On Monday, Sara Netanyahu was interviewed in the police’s Lahav 433 national fraud unit headquarters in the city of Lod, while Yair was questioned in a room in the nearby Israel Securities Authority. At the same time, the prime minister faced interrogators at the family’s official residence in Jerusalem.
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, subsequent news reports said that Sara Netanyahu had refused to face them. Legally, suspects have the right to refuse to face a witness, in the same way that they have the right to remain silent.
At the heart of the interrogation were the instructions allegedly received by Hefez and Filber from the suspects, as well as suspicions that Sara Netanyahu obstructed justice by allegedly deleting text messages relevant to the case.
Cohen claimed in his letter that only investigators could have told the media of the plans to have Netanyahu face the state’s witnesses, or the fact that Yair was questioned elsewhere, as well as other specific details. Yet the information was immediately in the hands of the media.
The lawyer added that information about an earlier questioning had been given to the media before it even happened, pointing the finger at the police investigators and singling out Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich.
Following Monday’s 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. 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 suspended Communication Ministry director 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.