Netanyahu to be questioned in Bezeq corruption case, possibly as a suspect

Netanyahu to be questioned in Bezeq corruption case, possibly as a suspect

PM ‘likely’ to face interrogators this Friday and, in burgeoning allegations, may also be questioned under caution in submarine probe

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nir Hefetz (L) as Head of the National Information Directorate arrive at the weekly cabinet meeting held in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. Sunday, Dec 27, 2009. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nir Hefetz (L) as Head of the National Information Directorate arrive at the weekly cabinet meeting held in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. Sunday, Dec 27, 2009. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Weeks after police recommended indicting Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery in two separate corruption cases, the prime minister appears set to face questioning this week in yet another probe, as police consider making him a criminal suspect in two fresh investigations.

A source familiar with the investigations told The Times of Israel on Sunday that it was “likely” investigators would summon the Netanyahu for questioning in the so-called Case 4000 this Friday, Purim in Jerusalem, “possibly” even under caution, which would mean that they were treating him as a suspect.

Case 4000 involves suspicions that the controlling shareholder of the telecommunications giant Bezeq, Shaul Elovitch, ordered the Walla news site, which he owns, to grant positive coverage to Netanyahu and his family in exchange for the prime minister advancing regulations benefiting Elovitch.

Benjamin Netanyahu touring the INS Tanin submarine, built by the German firm ThyssenKrupp, as it arrived in Israel on September 23, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

The source also said that the prime minister could be interrogated as a criminal suspect in Case 3000, involving suspected corruption in the multi-billion-shekel purchase of submarines and other naval vessels and 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.

Neither the Israel Police or the Prime Minister’s Office would confirm that an interrogation had been scheduled for Friday or that Netanyahu would face questioning in either case.

Netanyahu had reportedly sought to push off any police questioning until after his scheduled trip to the United States, from Saturday night until next Thursday, when he will attend the annual AIPAC policy conference. Police, however, insisted that he be questioned before leaving Israel, according to Hebrew media reports.

While Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect in either Case 3000 or 4000, a Hadashot TV news report on Friday said Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had authorized investigators to take testimony from him in the probe, and — if the need arises — to question him under caution.

A number of close associates of Netanyahu’s, including his two personal lawyers, former chief of staff and former media adviser have been arrested or questioned in the cases.

(L-R) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal lawyer David Shimron, his former diplomatic envoy Yitzhak Molcho, his former bureau chief David Sharan, former deputy national security adviser Avriel Bar-Yosef and former commander of the Israeli Navy Eliezer Marom (Flash90)

The Case 4000 investigation has gathered steam in the past week, following the arrest of a number of high-profile aides to Netanyahu and executives at Bezeq.

Shlomo Filber, the suspended director-general of the Communications Ministry and a longtime Netanyahu confidant, signed a deal Tuesday to turn state’s witness and possibly incriminate the prime minister in the affair. Filber had his remand extended on Wednesday by 15 days, and is to stay during that time at a facility in an undisclosed location while police continue questioning him.

Shlomo Filber, director-general of the Communications Ministry, arrives for extension of his remand in Case 4000 at the Magistrate’s Court in Rishon Letzion, February 18, 2018. (Flash90)

Netanyahu was acting communications minister at the time when several allegedly illicit deals were made with Elovitch, one of which included helping Bezeq buy the satellite cable provider Yes, overriding antitrust issues raised by ministry officials. The prime minister, who is reportedly suspected of furthering that deal, denies any wrongdoing, as does Elovitch.

Earlier Sunday, Elovich and his wife and son, who were all members of the board, notified Bezeq that they intend to resign amid the probe. Bezeq shares have dropped some 30 percent in the past year amid the investigation, and activist investor Elliott Advisors, which holds a 4.8% stake in Bezeq, has called on the board to appoint new independent directors and demanded the immediate resignation of those who are implicated in the investigation.

Nir Hefetz appears in a Tel Aviv court on February 22, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

Nir Hefetz, a former spokesman for Netanyahu, was also arrested last week in the case, and on Sunday police announced that another suspect, media adviser Eli Kamir, had been taken into custody on suspicion that he received illicit favors in the case — reportedly a highly unusual retainer of $40,000 a month for unspecified services. Kamir has been linked to Hefetz, and through him to Netanyahu. He was remanded Sunday afternoon for five days’ custody on suspicion of bribery, fraud and money laundering.

The prime minister has also been linked to an additional affair, dubbed Case 1270, which involves Hefetz allegedly offering in 2015 to have judge Hila Gerstel appointed attorney general if she agreed to halt an investigation focused on the prime minister’s wife, Sara. Kamir is said to have relayed an offer from Hefetz to Gerstner in that case.

Earlier this month, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and bribery in two other cases.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, totaling NIS 1 million ($282,000). In return, Netanyahu is alleged by police to have intervened on Milchan’s behalf in matters relating to legislation, business dealings, and visa arrangements.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth 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 denied any wrongdoing in all the cases.

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