State prosecutors held a pre-indictment hearing Tuesday for two key suspects in the Bezeq corruption probe, a sprawling case in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to face charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust later this year.
The hearing for Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris was held at the prosecution’s economic unit in Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu is suspected of an illicit quid pro quo with Elovitch — the majority shareholder in Israel’s biggest telecom firm Bezeq, and the owner of the Walla news website — that continued for about four years until early 2017. The alleged understanding saw Elovitch ensure favorable coverage of Netanyahu at Walla, Israel’s second largest news site, and critical coverage of Netanyahu’s rivals, especially in the 2013 and 2015 election periods.
Prosecutors say that in return Netanyahu intervened in regulatory and other business decisions relating to Bezeq that benefited tycoon Elovitch to the tune of NIS 1.8 billion — some $500 million.
The Elovitch couple were not present at the hearing and were represented by their attorneys, Jack Chen and Micha Ronen-Ozer, the Ynet website reported.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s lengthy description of Netanyahu’s alleged illicit dealings with Elovitch, known as Case 4000, took up the majority of the 57-page document released in February in which Mandelblit set out the allegations that prompted him to announce a criminal indictment against the prime minister, pending a hearing.
Netanyahu is scheduled to attend his own pre-indictment hearing in the case on October 2-3, which will also cover two other corruption probes against him in which the prime minister faces additional fraud and breach of trust charges.
Last month prosecutors held a pre-indictment hearing for businessman Ze’ev Rubinstein before a decision is made on whether to charge him as an accessory to bribery in the case. According to Mandelblit’s document (which can be read in full here), Rubinstein acted as one of the intermediaries between the Netanyahu family and the Elovitches and introduced them in 1999.
Case 4000 is the most serious of the three investigations into the prime minister, as it includes a proposed bribery charge for both Netanyahu and Elovitch.
Case 1000 involves accusations that Netanyahu received 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 — the latter a somewhat murkily defined offense relating to an official violating the trust the public has placed in him. Milchan is not to be charged.
Case 2000 revolves around accusations Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. In this case, Mandelblit will seek to also charge the premier with breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery. Mozes underwent his own pre-indictment hearing on Sunday.
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.