Bezeq corruption probe

Sara Netanyahu to be questioned Friday at same time as PM — report

Benjamin Netanyahu said slated to be interrogated under caution in Case 4000, with investigators possibly presenting couple with identical materials

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his wife Sara Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 28, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his wife Sara Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 28, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara will reportedly both be interrogated in the Bezeq corruption case on Friday, a day before the prime minister embarks on a week-long diplomatic trip to the United States.

The two will be questioned simultaneously but separately at the prime minister’s official residence, Hadashot TV reported Wednesday, adding that investigators could present identical materials to both, including recordings gathered during the probe.

The prime minister will be questioned under caution in the case, marking him as a possible suspect, the report said.

He is also expected to testify in a separate probe, known as Case 3000, in which he has not been named a suspect, it added. The case involves suspected corruption in the multi-billion-shekel purchase of submarines and other naval vessels and from a German shipbuilder

The Bezeq case, also known as Case 4000, involves suspicions that Shaul Elovitch, chief shareholder of telecommunications giant Bezeq, ordered the Walla news site, which he also owns, to grant positive coverage to the Netanyahus in exchange for the prime minister’s advancement of regulations benefiting him.

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

In a separate report Wednesday, Channel 10 published a text message sent by Sara Netanyahu to Iris Elovitch, Shaul’s wife, blasting coverage of the Netanyahus on Walla and urging her to “quickly” change it.

“You’re killing us. You’re slaughtering us. You’re destroying the state. What type of site is this?” Sara Netanyahu wrote in a WhatsApp message at an unspecified time, according to the report. “Change this. Do something with this. You’re the owners of the site. This should happen quickly.”

On Friday, Channel 10 reported on another text from Netanyahu to Elovitch, asking why Walla editor Aviram Elad had not yet been fired.

“It can’t go on like this, I thought we talked about this. This has gone on too long. Why do I need to read on your website about things like this? Do something about this!” Sara Netanyahu wrote in the message.

Earlier last week, Channel 10 reported that Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua told police the Netanyahus asked Shaul Elovitch to fire Elad.

The Tel Aviv District Court discusses the Bezeq affair on December 25, 2017 (Flash90)

Iris Elovitch, who is herself a suspect in the case, criticized the publication of the first WhatsApp message at the time.

“This is a prohibited and serious leak that distorts reality, while systematically ignoring important facts that weren’t presented [that] would prove that Iris Elovitch didn’t commit any offense,” she said in a statement.

The prime minister, who denies wrongdoing in any of the various corruption cases swirling around him, also slammed “biased and deceptive leaks” in response to the report.

The so-called Case 4000 corruption investigation gained traction this week after the ISA for the first time named Benjamin Netanyahu as one of the people believed to have been involved in bribery, totaling about NIS 1 billion.

Speaking at a hearing in which Shaul Elovitch and Nir Hefetz, a former media adviser for the prime minister, appealed their continued detention in the case, state prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh of the ISA said that in his role as communications minister, Netanyahu was at the center of “a very grave instance of giving and taking bribes.”

Also on Wednesday, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said that following an affair in which a judge overseeing the Bezeq case was apparently coordinating suspects’ remands with a prosecutor, courts would change their procedures, Hebrew-language media reported.

“We will investigate the incident and clear rules will be sent out so that it doesn’t repeat itself,” Shaked said.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (c) seen with Supreme Court President Esther Hayut (L) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, along with members of the Judicial Selection Committee on February 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Shaked and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut also said an official complaint against the judge, Ronit Poznansky-Katz, would be filed to the Supreme Court, and a special tribunal would be established to impose disciplinary measures against her.

The statement said the measures could range from an official reprimand to dismissal. Poznansky-Katz has been relieved of her duties until the disciplinary proceedings are over.

On Tuesday, ombudsman Judge Eliezer Rivlin ruled that no criminal charges should be filed against Poznansky-Katz, recommending she face a disciplinary hearing instead.

Rivlin said her correspondence with Israel Securities Authority attorney Eran Shacham-Shavit regarding the suspects in the Bezeq probe was “highly inappropriate,” but did not find evidence she had engaged in collusion warranting a criminal investigation.

Communications Ministry Director-General Shlomo Filber at a Knesset committee meeting on July 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A flurry of developments were reported recently in Case 4000, following the arrest of a number of figures involved in the investigation.

Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of the Communications Ministry and longtime Netanyahu confidante, signed a deal last week to turn state’s witness and possibly incriminate Netanyahu in the affair.

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 by four days in the quickly ballooning corruption scandal.

Netanyahu served as communications minister from November 2014 to February 2017. During that time, Walla’s coverage notably changed to favor the Netanyahu family, and Bezeq was given permission, among other things, to buy the satellite cable provider Yes, overriding antitrust issues, and to renege on its commitment to lease out its infrastructure to telecom competitors so they could provide competing fixed line and internet services.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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