PM to face police interrogation Tuesday over new evidence in Bezeq graft probe

PM to face police interrogation Tuesday over new evidence in Bezeq graft probe

Questioned for third time in Case 4000, Netanyahu expected to be presented with information provided to investigators by former adviser-turned-state’s witness Nir Hefetz

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a tour of the Jerusalem Police headquarters at the Russian compound in Jerusalem, October 7, 2015. (GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a tour of the Jerusalem Police headquarters at the Russian compound in Jerusalem, October 7, 2015. (GPO)

Police will question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday in high-profile the Bezeq graft probe, having acquired new evidence from a key state’s witness reportedly implicating the premier in an illicit quid pro quo deal.

The probe, known as Case 4000, involves suspicions that Netanyahu, who has also served as communications minister for several years over his past two terms, advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for flattering coverage of the Netanyahus from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

New evidence provided to police by former top Netanyahu adviser turned state’s witness Nir Hefetz reportedly shows that mutually beneficial actions by Netanyahu and Elovitch were not incidental — rather, both parties were fully aware that they were acting as part of an illicit quid pro quo deal.

Hefetz reportedly told police he would at times speak with Elovitch 6-7 times a day in his capacity as Netanyahu’s adviser.

Nir Hefetz appears in a Tel Aviv court on February 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Tuesday’s questioning, which will take place at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, will be Netanyahu’s third time facing police investigators in the case and 10th time since the beginning of 2017 in connection to three other corruption investigations.

The state prosecution is currently considering whether to indict the prime minister in two other corruption probes, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000, after police in February recommended putting Netanyahu on trial in both.

Hefetz, a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family, is the third confidant of the premier to become state’s witness in the various cases, joining former Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber and former chief of staff Ari Harow.

Hefetz is said to have provided officials with further evidence in Cases 1000 and 2000 as well.

In Case 1000 — in which Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors — Hefetz reportedly provided investigators with names of additional patrons of the couple, seemingly strengthening the case that the alleged behavior was part of a pattern.

In Case 2000 — which involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes — Hefetz was said to have provided names of additional figures involved in the conversations between the two.

The Prime Minister’s Office said last week in response to reports that he will be questioned on Hefetz’s testimony that the new evidence “will amount to nothing.”

American Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony at Ariel University in the West Bank on June 28, 2017. (Ben Dori/Flash90)

Last week, Channel 10 news reported that Hefetz told police American casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson refused to go along with Netanyahu’s attempts to benefit Yedioth.

The premier allegedly planned to handicap Yedioth’s pro-Netanyahu rival, the free daily Israel Hayom, which is owned by Adelson. In return the prime minister would get more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

According to the TV report, Netanyahu asked Adelson to help consummate the deal, but he refused. Evidence provided by Hefetz shows that Adelson acted with propriety, the report said.

In April Channel 10 reported that prosecutors are likely to recommend charging Netanyahu with breach of trust in Case 1000, but may not pursue more serious bribery charges.

Prosecutors have yet to formulate an opinion on Case 2000.

The prime minister’s wife Sara and son Yair have both been questioned in the cases as well. The Netanyahus have denied any wrongdoing.

Police arrive at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 27, 2017, to question Benjamin Netanyahu (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect in another investigation, Case 3000, but there have been reports that police are considering questioning him under caution about the case.

Case 3000 involves suspected corruption in the multi-billion-shekel purchase of submarines and other naval vessels 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.

Police have clarified repeatedly that Netanyahu is currently not a suspect in Case 3000.

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