Prime minister and media mogul held ‘back door’ meeting before merger — report

Newspaper says police have testimony that Netanyahu met with Shaul Elovitch ahead of approval to merge national phone company with the businessman’s satellite TV firm

A composite image of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and former Bezeq controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch. (Flash90: Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)
A composite image of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and former Bezeq controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch. (Flash90: Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

Police have testimony that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a secret meeting with a media mogul shortly before state regulators approved a merger between the phone company and the satellite television company the mogul owned, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Tuesday.

The deal is under scrutiny as part of a corruption probe into the prime minister’s actions when he was also serving as communications minister, known as Case 4000.

Shaul Elovitch allegedly requested the meeting with Netanyahu, which was held ahead of a June 2015 meeting of the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting. During that meeting, approval was granted for the phone company Bezeq to purchase the TV service, Yes. Elovitch was the controlling shareholder in both companies.

Witnesses reportedly claim the meeting dealt with the merger and Elovitch was pleased with the outcome, the report said. Yedioth did not specify exactly when the meeting took place.

The Bezeq probe, known as Case 4000, involves suspicions that Netanyahu advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Elovitch in exchange for flattering coverage of the Netanyahus from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

Police investigators arrive at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on July 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sources said the meeting was hastily organized at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem and that Elovitch was hustled in through a back door. Police financial crime unit investigators are focusing on the meeting because it appears to show the close ties between Netanyahu and Elovitch during the Bezeq merger process, Yedioth said.

According to the report, during the meeting — or on another occasion — the then-director of the Communications Ministry, Shlomo Filber, was waiting on the other side of the door as Elovitch talked with Netanyahu.

Filber signed a deal in February to turn state’s witness in Case 4000.

A statement issued on behalf of the prime minister said the Yedioth report was “another deceitful leak, it never happened and never existed. In no meeting between the prime minister and Elovitch was the merger between Yes and Bezeq discussed, not a single word.”

Jack Chen, an attorney for Elovitch, responded with a statement saying: “The prime minister and Mr. Elovitch did not meet at all in the months before this [Broadcasting Council] decision, and in any case, in all the meetings or conversations between them the merger between Bezeq and Yes was not raised, not in the context of a meeting, or any kind of a decision, not in any other context.”

Netanyahu and Elovitch were both interrogated by police about the matter on the same day last month. Elovitch reportedly admitted that he personally intervened to alter content on the Walla news site at the request of the Netanyahu family, while denying he expected any favors in return.

The process for the merger between Bezeq and Yes began in March 2015 and was approved by the Council three months later and then also by Netanyahu, who was communications minister at the time.

Netanyahu is also suspected of trying to help Elovitch sell the Walla website, which was ailing, to US billionaire Oracle chief Larry Ellison.

A woman walks by the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, November 2, 2014 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The interrogation was Netanyahu’s fourth in the case and his tenth overall since the beginning of 2017, when police first questioned him regarding other corruption suspicions.

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.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes.

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