State prosecutor reviewing Netanyahu cases said to recommend bribery charges

State prosecutor reviewing Netanyahu cases said to recommend bribery charges

Liat Ben Ari reportedly sees enough evidence to charge PM and Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes for illicit quid pro quo deal in Case 2000

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A state prosecutor appointed to oversee and review the corruption allegations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly recommended the premier be charged for bribery in at least one of three cases against him.

The head of the State Prosecution’s Tax and Finance Department, Liat Ben Ari, believes there is enough evidence to indict both Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for bribery in Case 2000, Channel 10 news reported Tuesday night.

The case involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily newspaper, the Sheldon Adelson-backed freebie Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Under the alleged agreement between Mozes and Netanyahu, which was not implemented, the prime minister said he would advance measures to curb the circulation of Israel Hayom if Mozes instructed his reporters and op-ed writers to soften their often negative stance toward him.

Publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Arnon ‘Noni’ Mozes arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod, January 15, 2017. (Koko/Flash90)

On Sunday, Channel 10 reported that Ben Ari had also recommended that Netanyahu be tried on corruption charges in Case 1000, in which he is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues. Ben Ari maintained that there was sufficient evidence to lodge an indictment, the TV report said, though it did not elaborate which charges she had recommended Netanyahu face.

Police in February recommended Netanyahu be indicted in both cases.

In those recommendations, police said that starting in 2009, “Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes held conversations and personal meetings during which they discussed helping each other as a quid pro quo to advance their respective interests,” said police.

They alleged that Netanyahu offered his support for possible measures including closing Israel Hayom, helping to shrink the newspaper’s circulation numbers, and nixing the free daily’s weekend edition. Furthermore, the investigation revealed “that the sides took actual active steps in advancing each other’s interests in continuation of the understandings reached between them, or at least presented to each other as if they had acted that way.”

In addition “the prime minister acted as an agent for the Yedioth Ahronoth publisher with other business people in the purchase of Yedioth Ahronoth, while he was communications minister,” police said.

Ben Ari’s recommendations will now be reviewed by State Attorney Shai Nitzan, who will then present a final recommendation to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, before the latter decides whether to press charges against the prime minister.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit (L) and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan attend a Justice Ministry conference in Tel Aviv on December 21, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Mandelblit has already announced, however, that a final decision on indictments in the two cases will only be made together with the findings of another ongoing investigation, Case 4000.

In that case, Netanyahu is suspected of advancing regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

That probe has been reopened, a report by the Kan public broadcaster said last week, due to new information. The development is expected to delay any decision by prosecutors on filing indictments against the premier.

Netanyahu has been questioned 12 times over the various graft suspicions, most recently in August in the Case 4000 investigation.

Once police finish their work in that investigation, they will submit their findings and recommendations to prosecutors, who will then hand over their conclusions to the attorney general.

Netanyahu has long denied any wrongdoing in all three cases.

Times of Israel contributed to this report.

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