Netanyahu to face final police grilling Friday in Bezeq corruption probe

Netanyahu to face final police grilling Friday in Bezeq corruption probe

Investigators to question PM at his official residence, said likely to recommend bribery charges; final decision by attorney general unlikely before late 2019

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on August 12, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Jim Hollander)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on August 12, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Jim Hollander)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be grilled by police for the last time on Friday on charges of bribery in the Bezeq corruption probe, known as Case 4000.

Investigators will question the premier at his official residence in Jerusalem amid media reports that they are reportedly leaning towards recommending a bribery indictment against Netanyahu in the case.

According to Hebrew-language media reports throughout this week, officials suspect Netanyahu advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, despite opposition from the Communication Ministry’s career officials and in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

Netanyahu has vehemently denied the accusations and insisted all his regulatory decisions affecting Bezeq were in keeping with the recommendations of the ministry’s professional echelons.

Friday’s questioning will be Netanyahu’s last in Case 4000 before police are scheduled to submit their conclusions to the state prosecution, which will then decide whether there is sufficient evidence to pursue an indictment.

On Tuesday, an unnamed source said to be familiar with the progress in the case told Hadashot television news that the evidence is expected to be deemed by police as sufficient to charge the prime minister with bribery.

Sources close to Netanyahu responded to the report by angrily denouncing the purported leak. “Why do you need a police investigation if there is already a recommendation? First they make the decision and then they investigate? This is an outrage,” an official close to Netanyahu told Hadashot.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing in Case 4000, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

Friday’s questioning won’t be the last faced by Netanyahu, as he is also a suspect in two other corruption probes, the so-called cases 1000 and 2000, two investigations in which police have already recommended bribery indictments. The new rounds of questioning follow investigators’ discovery of new evidence in the case provided by former Netanyahu media adviser and confidant-turned-state witness, Nir Hefetz.

In Case 1000, the so-called “gifts scandal,” Netanyahu is suspected of “systematically” demanding benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Arnon Milchan and Australian resort owner James Packer, in exchange for favors.

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 denied wrongdoing in all of the cases, insisting the gifts were given by friends and were not bribes, and that he never intended to act on his conversations with Mozes.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference in Jerusalem on February 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who will make the final decision whether to indict the prime minister, reportedly intends to examine all three cases at the same time — which will be possible only after he receives the state attorney’s recommendations based on the final police reports.

That process puts the likely date of any final word on whether a trial may be in Netanyahu’s future in late 2019, possibly after the next Knesset elections — currently slated for November 2019 but which may very well be held earlier.

The Hadashot report this week also said a tax offense investigation against Interior Minister Aryeh Deri was reaching its final stages, with police likely to recommend an indictment against him as well.

It added that the process in Deri’s case would be much quicker than in the Netanyahu cases.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (l) and his wife Yaffa seen leaving their home in Jerusalem, on May 29, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deri, the leader of ultra-Orthodox party Shas, is suspected of diverting hundreds of thousands of shekels in state funds to NGOs run by members of his immediate family, as well as suspected tax fraud linked to the sale of apartments to his brother.

Deri and his wife Yaffa have been questioned under caution as criminal suspects. They face possible charges of theft, fraud, and tax evasion.

Aryeh Deri has previously denied any wrongdoing on his part or his wife’s.

Deri already served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002 after he was convicted of taking bribes as interior minister in the 1990s.

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