Welfare Minister Haim Katz has reportedly been questioned by police over suspicions he took bribes, as an investigation into suspected insider trading by the Likud minister widened.
The Tuesday report comes a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was grilled by investigators over a separate case involving suspicions he accepted valuable gifts from at least two businessmen.
In a dramatic development in an investigation into his business dealings, Katz was questioned under caution two weeks ago by agents of the Israel Securities Authority, the Yedioth Aharonoth daily reported.
Katz was first questioned by the authority in May over suspicions he used insider information for financial gain but the new interrogation dealt with much more serious allegations of bribery.
Being questioned under caution means that Katz is now a considered a criminal suspect.
It was not immediately clear what the suspicions of bribery referred to and whether Katz is thought to have received funds in return for political favors.
The Israel Securities Authority did not immediately respond to a Times of Israel request for comment on the investigation.
Along with Katz, his long-time financial adviser Mordechai Ben-Aryeh was also questioned under caution, Yedioth said. Ben-Aryeh was arrested before the first round of questioning in May but was released a week later posting a NIS 1 million ($260,000) bond.
Katz and Ben-Aryeh were originally suspected of buying stocks for Nitsba Holdings, based on insider information on an upcoming merger with Airport City before the merger was made public, and making NIS 290,000 ($75,000) from the shares. Ben-Aryeh also served as an adviser for the two companies.
Katz told Yedioth that “half truths and disinformation have been leaked to the media,” in order to damage his reputation.
“I am sure that this cloud will be lifted and no uncertainty will remain around the case. I said what I needed to say to the investigators, in full cooperation,” he said, adding that he did not make use of a lawyer during the questioning.
Businessman Kobi Maimon, a confidant of the minister, was also reported to have been linked to the case, according to the report. Maimon is co-owner of Isramco Negev that has vast holdings in oil and gas properties in Israel.
In June 2015, Katz, along with Kulanu ministers Moshe Kahlon and Yoav Galant, said they could not participate in the vote on a controversial natural gas deal due to their ties to the gas industry. The three stood firm in their refusal despite being cleared by legal advisers.
Having served on and off in the Knesset since 1999, Katz, who represents the Israel Aircraft Industries workers union in the Likud party, is considered a powerful political “contractor” with the ability to mobilize thousands of voters in the primaries.
Police investigators questioned Netanyahu at his residence on Monday evening for more than three hours over suspicions he accepted valuable gifts from businessmen, after a graft probe against him gave way to a full-blown investigation in recent days.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit later confirmed for the first time that he had ordered a criminal investigation into allegations of wrongdoing by the prime minister.
Netanyahu is likely to be interrogated again in the coming days.