Prime minister questioned for four hours in Bezeq graft probe

Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife grilled for second time in case 4000, son interrogated for first time; two state witnesses arrive at national crime unit headquarters

Police investigators arrive at the entrance to the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on March 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police investigators arrive at the entrance to the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on March 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police on Monday questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara and their son Yair for four hours in a high-profile corruption investigation concerning the Bezeq telecom giant.

While the prime minister faced investigators at his official residence in Jerusalem, Sara and Yair Netanyahu went to the police’s Lahav 433 national fraud unit headquarters in the city of Lod, where they were interviewed.

It was the second time the prime minister and his wife were questioned in the case, and political pundits say it is unlikely to be the last. However, it was the first time that Yair was questioned in the probe, and the first interview for the prime minister and his wife since former top Netanyahu adviser Nir Hefetz turned state’s witness against the prime minister in the case.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, March 25, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem)

Following the questioning, police and the Israel Securities Authority issued a joint statement confirming that the three family members had been questioned for a number of hours. The statement also stressed that “the investigation is being conducted with the supervision and oversight of the state attorney and with the approval of the attorney general.”

The three had been slated to be questioned last week, but the interrogation was reportedly postponed due to the prime minister feeling unwell.

Hefetz and Netanyahu’s former chief of staff Ari Harow, who has also turned state’s witness against the prime minister, both also arrived at Lahav 433 Monday morning. Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris were also expected at the complex in connection with what is known by its police designation, “Case 4000.”

Channel 10 television said Sara was also to be questioned on obstruction suspicions after she allegedly deleted text messages relevant to the case.

Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is seen in Tel Aviv on November 26, 2017. (Flash90)

The prime minister and his wife were last questioned earlier this month in the Bezeq probe, which involves suspicions that Netanyahu, who has served as communications minister for several years over his past two terms as premier, advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Elovitch in exchange for flattering coverage of the Netanyahus from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

Days later, Hefetz, a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family, turned state’s witness in the investigation. He became the third Netanyahu confidant to do so in cases involving the premier, joining former Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber and Harow.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara attend the opening ceremony of the inauguration of the new emergency ward at the Barzilay hospital, in Ashkelon, Israel on February 20, 2018. (Flash90)

Police now are said to be seeking the Netanyahus’ version of events, having gathered testimony from Hefetz.

In addition to Case 4000, Netanyahu is also suspected of wrongdoing in so-called cases 1000 and 2000, in which police have recommended he be indicted for bribery, breach of trust and fraud.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, amounting to some NIS 1 million ($282,000) worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian resort owner James Packer, allegedly in return for certain benefits.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former spokesman Nir Hefetz (foreground) and Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch attend a remand hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

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 not been named as a suspect in another investigation, Case 3000, but there have been reports that police are considering questioning him under caution about the case.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing in Case 4000, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

Case 3000 involves suspected corruption in the multi-billion-shekel purchase of submarines and other naval vessels from a German shipbuilder. The investigation has focused on suspicions that state officials were bribed to influence a decision to purchase four patrol boats and three Dolphin-class submarines costing a total of 2 billion euros from ThyssenKrupp, despite opposition to the deal from the Defense Ministry.

Police have clarified repeatedly that Netanyahu is not a suspect in Case 3000.

Netanyahu and his family have denied any wrongdoing in all of the cases.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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