The publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper is the businessman who conducted negotiations with Benjamin Netanyahu to receive benefits in exchange for helping the prime minister remain in power, Channel 2 news reported Sunday.
Arnon Mozes, often described as a long-time arch-nemesis of the prime minister, is reportedly being investigated under caution along with Netanyahu over the deal.
According to a report Sunday in the daily Haaretz, officers are in possession of “a series” of audio recordings of Netanyahu that appear to corroborate the suspicions, part of a mysterious investigation whose details have remained hazy.
Channel 2 reported that Ari Harow, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, recorded the conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes, at the prime minister’s request. The recordings were found by police at Harow’s home.
The evidence, the reports said, doesn’t necessarily point at financial favors, but rather indicates an attempt to forge a “quid pro quo pact” under which the unnamed businessman would help Netanyahu shore up his leadership, and receive “achievements estimated to be worth a fortune” in return.
Following the Channel 2 report, Channel 10 news and Haaretz reported Sunday that the prime minister had promised Mozes he would work to reduce the circulation of rival pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom, which is free and has eaten away at Yedioth’s market share, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
According to Channel 2, the talks were only over shuttering the weekend edition of Israel Hayom, owned by US billionaire and Netanyahu ally Sheldon Adelson.
Channel 10 reported that Netanyahu attempted to convince Mozes to kill a story about his son Yair Netanyahu. It was not immediately clear what information Yedioth had on Yair Netanyahu or if the story was published.
Yedioth, once the country’s largest tabloid, is often seen as critical of Netanyahu, and he has complained of unfair coverage from the newspaper, amid a larger media campaign to push him from office.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office declined a Times of Israel request to comment on the reports.
According to Hebrew media reports, Netanyahu told ministers at a Sunday cabinet meeting before the Channel 2 report was published, “Now that I know what is being [investigated] I can tell you with certainty: There will be nothing because there is nothing,” a mantra he has repeated several times over the last two weeks.
The prime minister said that the case was a result of “relentless pressure by media sources on the law enforcement authorities,” describing the suspicions as “nothing but hot air.”
Netanyahu was questioned by police under caution on Thursday evening for five hours — the second such session in four days. Reports have mostly dealt with a separate investigation involving possibly illicit gifts that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, received from several businessmen.
The probe involving the reported recordings of the prime minister, rumored to have been dubbed Case 2,000, will be publicly damaging but is legally ambiguous, sources involved in the investigation told the country’s major broadcasters Friday.
Sunday’s Haaretz report quoted sources close to the prime minister as saying he was surprised by the quality of the evidence police had amassed in the case.
Netanyahu’s lawyer Yaakov Weinroth on Friday rejected the notion that there was anything criminal in the prime minister’s actions, and said he had nothing to fear from Case 2,000.
Police said they could not provide further details on the case due to concerns about possible obstructions of justice. Haaretz reported that officers had warned Netanyahu on Thursday not to discuss the case with other suspects so as to avoid obstructing the investigation.