Netanyahu sues journalist for claiming he approved payment to influence probe

Netanyahu sues journalist for claiming he approved payment to influence probe

PM slams Ben Caspit for ‘false and baseless’ claims, goes after a member of the Maariv writer’s family over a 2001 incident

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the foreign press on December 19, 2018 (screen capture: YouTube)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the foreign press on December 19, 2018 (screen capture: YouTube)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu filed a libel lawsuit against prominent journalist Ben Caspit on Sunday, demanding NIS 200,000 ($53,000) from Caspit for voicing “false and baseless” claims in his Friday column in the Maariv newspaper.

Netanyahu also attacked Caspit and his family on Twitter.

Caspit wrote in his most recent column that Netanyahu’s “emissary” MK Miki Zohar (Likud) in June handed a NIS 6 million ($1.6 million) pension benefit to  Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, shortly before he was due to step down from the position.

Caspit also pointed out that Yinon’s romantic partner, Amit Marari, is the deputy attorney general in charge of criminal affairs, and is involved in the various corruption investigations into the prime minister — implying an illicit attempt to influence the outcome of those investigations.

Ben Caspit, political reporter for Ma’ariv, in the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, January 22, 2009. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

“Marari is the deputy attorney general for criminal affairs, but also the partner of Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon. And why is that interesting? Because recently Yinon received a NIS 6 million benefit from the Knesset at the last minute before resigning. This pension benefit was led, pushed, approved and legislated by Miki Zohar, who is very close to the prime minister,” Caspit wrote.

The suit also claims that Caspit wrote the following paragraph, which does not appear in the version of the column posted on Maariv’s website:

“The situation is that the partner of the person who is supposed to participate in deciding Netanyahu’s fate has received millions indirectly from the hands of the prime minister,” Caspit allegedly wrote. “Luckily, we know that Yinon is an honest man, and his partner as well, but imagine what would have happened here if it had been otherwise.”

In his lawsuit, Netanyahu’s lawyers say the column “didn’t contain many facts and was mainly composed of blatant and serious slander against the prime minister, lies and baseless libel.

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon attends a Knesset committee meeting on June 6, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“The publication attributes to the prime minister a very serious and severe accusation, and it is a gross lie,” states the lawsuit, adding that Netanyahu had no knowledge of the payment, which it says was made six months before Marari joined the team involved in the investigations.

Netanyahu commented on the lawsuit on Sunday afternoon, tweeting: “Spoiler alert: Ben Caspit the liar, who has been persecuting me and my family for decades, will have to pay again,” with a link to a report on the lawsuit from the right-wing Channel 20. Netanyahu added that Caspit had recently been forced to apologize and pay compensation to Sara Netanyahu over a story he published about her.

He then tweeted a screen grab of a story about a member of Caspit’s family, Uri Caspit — reportedly the journalist’s brother — and his alleged involvement in a 2001 fraud case.

“Ben Caspit’s morbid obsession will cost him… dearly. If Ben Caspit cared a little more about his family instead of chasing my family, maybe we would be spared such unfortunate cases,” wrote the prime minister.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is set to begin reviewing materials to decide on possible charges against Netanyahu this week, embarking on the most high-stakes stage yet of a several-year-long legal entanglement that has threatened to upend the country’s political system. In announcing their conclusions on the case, police and legal officials have recommended that the prime minister stand trial for bribery.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands by his wife Sara before lighting a menorah during the start of Hanukkah in Ramat Gan on December 2, 2018. (GUEZ / AFP)

It’s not clear how long it will take Mandelblit to make a decision on whether to charge Netanyahu in any of the three cases against him. According to Hadashot TV news, the attorney general’s office aims to reach a decision on whether to press charges in the next few months, and certainly “well before Passover” which starts in mid-April.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

In 2016 the premier and his wife sued journalist Igal Sarna after he alleged in a Facebook post that Sara had stopped the prime minister’s convoy on a major highway and kicked her husband out of the car on the side of the road. In June 2017 the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ordered Sarna to pay compensation to the Netanyahus.

While the verdict said the account had hurt the Netanyahus’ public standing, it awarded the prime minister less than asked for because it did not “reach the highest threshold of severity.” The Tel Aviv District Court in January rejected Sarna’s appeal against the NIS 100,000 ($28,300) in compensation he was ordered to pay the Netanyahus.

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