ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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State attorney closes cases against Walla, Yedioth; Netanyahu trial not affected

In deal with state attorney, Bezeq firm, formerly controlled by Shaul Elovitch, to pay NIS 800,000 fine, admit to providing misleading information

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Left: Publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Arnon 'Noni' Mozes arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod on January 15, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90); Right: Shaul Elovitch after a court hearing at the Tel Aviv District Court, July 20, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Left: Publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Arnon 'Noni' Mozes arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod on January 15, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90); Right: Shaul Elovitch after a court hearing at the Tel Aviv District Court, July 20, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The State Attorney’s Office Thursday closed its investigations against the Walla news company and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper tied to the criminal cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

At the same time, the Bezeq telecommunications company, which was once controlled by former Walla owner Shaul Elovitch, will pay a limited fine of some NIS 800,000 ($219,000) as part of an agreement reached with the State Attorney’s Office owing to administrative violations related to one of the cases.

Under the agreement with the State Attorney’s Office, Bezeq will admit to offering misleading information about a procedure that had not been performed as was required by law.

The State Attorney’s Office said the decision to close the cases was made “after examining the allegations in a hearing and considering the totality of the circumstances, including those relating to the public interest — the complexity resulting from conducting the central case [against Netanyahu and Elovitch], and the delay until a decision is made on that matter.”

Netanyahu’s trials on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery are not impacted by the decisions regarding Bezeq, Walla and Yedioth, and are continuing as usual, the State Attorney’s Office noted.

Elovitch’s trial on charges of bribing Netanyahu with favorable coverage from Walla in return for benefits for Bezeq will also not be affected by the developments, nor will that of Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes, who has also been indicted for allegedly offering Netanyahu a quid pro quo for positive coverage.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem District Court to listen to video testimony from businessman Arnon Milchan in the prime minister’s corruption trial, June 27, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Walla and Bezeq came under suspicion of criminal violations in the context of Case 4000, in which the prime minister is suspected of having provided regulatory benefits to Bezeq shareholder and former chairman of the board Elovitch worth hundreds of millions of shekels, and in return received favorable media coverage from the Walla news site, also owned by Elovitch at the time. He was charged with bribery in the case, as well as the lesser charges of fraud and breach of trust.

Yedioth came under suspicion in Case 2000, in which Netanyahu is accused of attempting to obtain more favorable coverage from the news outlet in return for passing legislation that would weaken Yedioth’s rival newspaper Israel Hayom.

Netanyahu is also on trial for two additional counts of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000, which concerns gifts he allegedly inappropriately received from billionaire benefactors.

He denies any wrongdoing in the cases against him and claims without evidence that the charges were fabricated in a witch hunt led by the police and state prosecution.

Netanyahu’s trial began three years ago and, as things stand, the proceedings, including potential appeals, are seen as unlikely to end before 2028-2029. In late June 2023, it was reported that the judges considered the bribery charge against the premier in Case 4000 difficult to prove and that they convened with state prosecutors and Netanyahu’s defense team to discuss the possibility of a plea bargain. Prosecutors were reported to be adamant that the bribery charge was viable.

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