Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly told police investigators he felt threatened by a newspaper publisher with whom he is accused of having hatched an illicit quid pro quo agreement, Israeli television reported Thursday.
Police in February recommended Netanyahu be indicted for allegedly negotiating an agreement with Yedioth Ahronoth owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes to weaken rival daily Israel Hayom in exchange for favorable coverage from Yedioth, an investigation known as Case 2000.
“Noni Mozes told me I destroyed a legacy of generations of the Mozes family, its life work, Yedioth Ahronoth. He threatened he would destroy my family and to publish investigative pieces,” Channel 10 news quoted Netanyahu saying.
The report, which did not give a source for the quote, did not say when Mozes made the alleged threat.
Last week, Channel 10 reported the state prosecutor charged with overseeing and reviewing the corruption allegations in Case 2000 believes there is sufficient evidence to charge Netanyahu with bribery.
Under the alleged agreement between Mozes and Netanyahu, which was not implemented, the prime minister said he would advance measures to curb the circulation of Israel Hayom if Mozes instructed his reporters and op-ed writers to soften their often negative stance toward him.
In its recommendations from February, police said that starting in 2009, “Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes held conversations and personal meetings during which they discussed helping each other as a quid pro quo to advance their respective interests.”
They alleged that Netanyahu offered his support for possible measures including closing Israel Hayom, helping to shrink the newspaper’s circulation numbers, and nixing the free daily’s weekend edition. Furthermore, the investigation revealed “that the sides took actual active steps in advancing each other’s interests in continuation of the understandings reached between them, or at least presented to each other as if they had acted that way.”
In addition “the prime minister acted as an agent for the Yedioth Ahronoth publisher with other business people in the purchase of Yedioth Ahronoth, while he was communications minister,” police said.
The recommendation by Liat Ben Ari, the head of the State Prosecution’s Tax and Finance Department, will now be reviewed by State Attorney Shai Nitzan, who will then present a final recommendation to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, before the latter decides whether to press charges against the prime minister.
Police have also recommended charging Mozes in the case. Both he and Netanyahu have denied wrongdoing.
In addition to case Case 2000, police have also recommended Netanyahu be indicted in a pair of separate criminal investigations, known as cases 1000 and 4000.
Case 1000 involves suspicions Netanyahu received benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues.
In Case 4000, Netanyahu is suspected of advancing regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from its Walla news site.
Netanyahu has also denied any wrongdoing in all the cases.