Police question Netanyahu in 11th interrogation over graft probes

Police question Netanyahu in 11th interrogation over graft probes

PM faces investigators at his official residence for final questioning over Bezeq corruption allegations, before expected recommendation of bribery charges

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

Police investigators arrive at the entrance to the Prime Minister Residence in Jerusalem on August 17, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Police investigators arrive at the entrance to the Prime Minister Residence in Jerusalem on August 17, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Police investigators rolled into the Prime Minister’s Residence Friday morning to interrogate Benjamin Netanyahu in the high-profile Bezeq graft probe, known as Case 4000, in what is expected to be his last questioning over allegations of bribery.

The four hour questioning, which represented the 11th time the prime minister faced police over a series of corruption probes, came amid media reports that police are leaning towards recommending a bribery indictment against him in the case.

Police said that Netanyahu was questioned “as part of an investigation being carried out by the National Financial Fraud Unit… together with the Israel Securities Authority.”

Netanyahu is suspected of 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, 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.

As investigators arrived at the Balfour Street residence, some 20 protesters gathered outside, calling on the prime minister to step down amid the investigation.

Protesters at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem as police investigators arrive to question Benjamin Netanyahu, August 17, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and his wife Sara in Jerusalem, on May 16, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/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. The next elections are currently slated for November 2019, but may very well be held earlier.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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