A pre-indictment hearing was taking place Sunday for a newspaper publisher accused of conspiring with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a deal whereby he’d provide better coverage of the premier in exchange for the curbing the circulation of a rival paper.
The probe, dubbed Case 2000, involves suspicions that Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken the staunchly pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom in return for more favorable coverage of the premier and his family in Yedioth.
In February, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Mozes on a charge of bribery in the case, pending the hearing, as part of a 57-page document translated by The Times of Israel.
Netanyahu himself faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in that case, pending a hearing that will take place on October 2-3. He is also accused of similar offenses in two other cases, including bribery in one of them.
Mozes’s attorney, Navit Negev, was representing him at the hearing. She arrived Sunday morning at the office of Liat Ben-Ari, the district attorney who leads the graft probes against the prime minister.
The questioning is likely to focus on the key evidence in the case, a phone call between Mozes and Netanyahu recorded by the prime minister’s former chief of staff Ari Harow, who provided the recordings to police and became a state’s witness.
Since its founding more than a decade ago, Israel Hayom has consistently supported the prime minister. Its unfailing backing of Netanyahu has been characterized by the downplaying of his failures, the hyping of his achievements and the lashing of his critics. It has also shied away from praising his rivals.
Israel Hayom, a freebie, became the country’s most read daily newspaper, after Yedioth had topped the charts for decades.
Case 2000 is said to have been a contentious one in Mandelblit’s office, with many prosecution officials reportedly arguing that Netanyahu should be charged with bribery, while Mandelblit considered not charging the prime minister at all.
The most serious of the three investigations into the prime minister, Case 4000, involves accusations that Netanyahu advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from its Walla news site. That case includes a proposed bribery charge for both Netanyahu and Elovitch.
In the third case, Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of receiving gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors. Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust in that case, while Milchan is not to be charged.
The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and claimed the investigations are part of efforts by the media, the Israeli left, the police and the state prosecution to remove him from power.