Media magnates Mozes, Elovitch hit with bribery charges in Netanyahu cases

Yedioth Ahronoth publisher, Bezeq controlling shareholder both implicated in prime minister’s alleged efforts to trade favors for positive media coverage

Publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Arnon 'Noni' Mozes arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod, January 15, 2017. (Koko/Flash90)
Publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Arnon 'Noni' Mozes arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod, January 15, 2017. (Koko/Flash90)

As he declared formal criminal charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday evening, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit also announced indictments against the publisher of the popular Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper and the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecom giant over their roles in two of the three corruption cases involving the premier.

Mandelblit stated that Netanyahu will be charged with fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases. The first, dubbed Case 1000, involves accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for favors.

In Case 2000, involving accusations Netanyahu agreed with Mozes to weaken the circulation of a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from his paper, Mandelblit said he would seek to charge the premier with fraud and breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery.

The indictment said that Netanyahu and Mozes “recognized that the one had the ability to promote the other’s interest” in the run-up to the 2015 elections and discussed such possibilities. In a recording published in the press last month, Netanyahu could be heard apparently negotiating with Mozes for more favorable coverage while later threatening to retaliate “with all the tools at my disposal” against news items he deemed too personal and negative.

A composite image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch. (Flash90; Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

Following the announcement of the indictment, Mozes’s attorneys stated that his conversations with Netanyahu had focused on how to provide “more balanced coverage” and were part of “a complex discourse.” Presenting his words as an offer of a bribe was a “wrong interpretation” which “ignores the context of the conversation itself.”

They insisted that Mozes had not offered the prime minister any benefits.

In Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, Netanyahu is accused of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, in exchange for positive coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site. In that case Mandelblit announced he intends to charge Netanyahu and Elovitch, along with the latter’s wife Iris, with bribery.

The indictment says the relationship between Netanyahu and Elovitch was “based on give and take,” and the prime minister’s actions benefiting Elovitch netted the businessman benefits to the tune of some NIS 1.8 billion ($500 million) in the period 2012-2017. In exchange, Elovitch’s Walla news site “published your political messages that you wished to convey to the public.

In a statement, Elovitch’s attorneys said they “regret the attorney general’s decision” and that “based on the evidence in the case, we are convinced that an indictment against our clients should have been avoided.” Expressing faith in the legal system, they stated that they believed their clients would be exonerated upon judicial review.

Netanyahu has called the charges against him “an attempted coup against a prime minister,” urging an inquiry into the investigators in charge of the probes against him.

“We need to investigate the investigators and the state prosecution which cooks these infected cases,” he said on Thursday evening.

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