Police set to question Netanyahu in Bezeq, submarine probes — TV report

PM’s spokesman takes leave of absence over quickly-ballooning Case 4000; key coalition partner says not necessarily leaving government even if Netanyahu indicted

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police are reportedly making efforts to again interrogate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Bezeq corruption probe, known as Case 4000, and to take his testimony in another case involving alleged graft in multi-billion-shekel naval deals.

The prime minister is expected to be asked to first give a testimony in the submarine affair, dubbed Case 3000, and then be interrogated in the Bezeq investigation, Hadashot TV reported Thursday.

A date has not yet been set, and discussions between the police and the Prime Minister’s Office are ongoing.

In Case 4000, Netanyahu is alleged to have provided regulatory benefits to Israel’s largest telephone company, Bezeq, in exchange for Bezeq’s chief shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, giving Netanyahu and his family positive coverage on the Walla news site, which Elovitch owns.

In Case 3000, police are investigating suspected corruption surrounding a multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels and submarines from a German shipbuilder. While Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect, close associates of his, including his two personal lawyers, have been arrested or questioned.

The report added that Netanyahu’s political spokesperson, Shai Hayek, has decided to take a leave of absence after being questioned in the Bezeq probe. He is said to have hired a lawyer and stopped having contact with the media, with his associates saying he was “very stressed out” over the situation.

Shaul Elovitch arrives for extension of his remand in case 4000 at the Magistrate’s Court in Tel Aviv, February 22, 2018. (Flash90)

On Tuesday, former Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber reportedly signed a deal to become state witness and testify that he was instructed by Netanyahu to give Bezeq the benefits. 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.

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Thursday extended the remands of Elovitch and his wife, Iris, by four days in the quickly ballooning corruption scandal.

Hebrew-language media reported earlier on Thursday that the CEO of Walla, Ilan Yeshua, recorded the website’s owner Elovitch ordering him to slant coverage in favor of Netanyahu and his family. The recordings, handed over by Yeshua to investigators in recent days, are said to have been the trigger for Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to open the criminal investigation and also for Filber’s decision to turn state witness.

Channel 10 reported Thursday evening that in one of the recordings, Elovitch can be heard saying the favorable coverage of Netanyahu has consequences for Bezeq’s interests and that it would affect the company’s fate, strengthening the bribery suspicion.

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. Elovitch also denies any wrongdoing.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett attends the Muni Expo 2018 conference at the Tel Aviv Convention Center, on February 14, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

On Thursday morning, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a key partner in Netanyahu’s coalition, said the prime minister was “functioning satisfactorily” after he last week chided the prime minister for “not living up to the standard” expected of a leader.

Commenting for the first time since the developments in the Bezeq probe, Bennett said in a letter to his Jewish Home party members that he has no intention of leaving the government.

“We very much hope the prime minister will be proven innocent,” Bennett wrote, adding in an interview with Army Radio that he would consider dismantling the coalition only if Mandelblit decides to indict Netanyahu.

Even in that case, Bennett said he wouldn’t necessarily leave the government and that his party would “evaluate” the situation.

Netanyahu has this week been linked to another affair, dubbed Case 1270, which involves his former family spokesman Nir Hefetz allegedly offering in 2015 to have judge Hila Gerstel appointed attorney general if she agreed to halt an investigation into the prime minister’s wife, Sara. Netanyahu, who has not been named as a suspect in the case, has strongly denied having anything to do with the incident, and said he thought it highly unlikely that Hefetz had advanced any such idea.

Channel 10 reported Thursday that Gerstel had refused to be confronted during her questioning on Monday with strategic adviser Eli Kamir, who allegedly received the offer from Hefetz and conveyed it to his friend Gerstel.

Ombudswoman of the Prosecution, retired Judge Hila Gerstel, attends a Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee meeting in the Israeli parliament, on January 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police investigators were reportedly surprised by Gerstel’s refusal, with law enforcement officials sharply criticizing her for it. The attorney’s office discussed with police the option of interrogating Gerstel under caution, but eventually decided against it, the report added.

Last week, 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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