American billionaire Sheldon Adelson reportedly told fellow tycoon Arnon Milchan that he was not prepared to do anything that could remotely be perceived as illegal in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to secure better press coverage for himself, fearing they could all end up in prison together.
The reported comment broadcast on Friday by Israel’s Channel 12 came from leaked transcripts of a conversation between Milchan and former Netanyahu adviser Nir Hefetz, who turned state’s witness last year in a series of corruption investigations implicating the prime minister.
The Milchan-Hefetz conversation, which was recorded by Hefetz, revolved around meetings between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes beginning in 2009 involving a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal that would have seen Netanyahu weaken Adelson’s Israel Hayom paper, Yedioth’s main rival, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. The agreement was never implemented.
Israel Hayom, considered very pro-Netanyahu, is handed out for free and has seriously hurt Yedioth’s circulation figures.
The alleged Netanyahu-Moses quid pro quo deal is at the heart of “Case 2000,” one of three in which Netanyahu faces fraud and breach of trust charges. He is also accused of bribery in Case 4000.
Adelson, a business magnate, major political donor, and philanthropist who has given testimony in the investigations against Netanyahu, is not a suspect in any of the cases against the prime minister.
According to the Channel 12 report Friday, attempts were being made to try and broker some kind of deal between Adelson and Mozes in which Adelson would reduce his paper’s circulation, from 250,000 copies per day to 85,000, in return for Mozes ending legislative efforts to ban free papers like Israel Hayom.
In the transcript excerpts quoted on Friday, Milchan tells Hefetz that the only involvement Adelson is willing to consider is to to buy Yedioth.
Milchan: “The one thing [that Sheldon] says, ‘I’m not going to complicate myself in this… I’m not going to jail for … not for Bibi, and not for anyone,’ he says that.”
Milchan: “Then she [Miriam Adelson[ says: ‘I’m rich, what will I do, sleep all day and wait for the craziness of Sarah Netanyahu.’ Then she says to me ‘listen, we are good friends, we really like Bibi, Sarah drives us crazy every five minutes and I’m not going to live like that.'”
Milchan: …”‘We will all sit in the same cell together,’ he says, ‘next to Bibi,’ that’s what he says, you hear.”
Hefetz: “He is right, they need to manage for themselves, leave us alone.”
Milchan: “Just because they will give us good catering in prison, what does [Sheldon]) say to me: ‘I will have a double problem,’ he says to me ‘I will sit [in prison] in Israel and the US, they will say I, as a foreign citizen, interfered in illegal activities in a foreign country, like that I could find myself doing 40 years, I’m too old for that.'”
Hefetz then responds with part of a quote from Proverbs: “[Thorns and snares lie on the path of the perverse;] he who guards his soul stays far from them.”
Milchan, while not involved in case 2000, is implicated in Case 1000, where Netanyahu is suspected of illicitly receiving gifts such as champagne, cigars and jewelry valued at some NIS 700,000 ($201,000) from billionaire benefactors Milchan and James Packer, and allegedly reciprocating in Milchan’s case with various forms of assistance.
Case 4000 concerns allegations that Netanyahu pushed regulatory decisions financially benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, in return for ongoing positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site.
Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution, designed to oust him from power.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to soon reach a decision on whether to indict Netanyahu in the three corruption charges against him. He aims to make the decision by mid-November, Channel 12 reported earlier this month. Other assessments suggested a decision would be made by year’s end.
The legal woes come as Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival, with the country’s unprecedented second election of the year again failing to provide him with a clear victory. In last month’s election, neither Netanyahu nor his chief challenger, Benny Gantz, secured the required parliamentary majority to form a new government. Both men have expressed support for a unity government as a way out of the deadlock, but they remain far apart on who should lead it and what smaller parties would join them.