Police Round Up Communications Heavies in Netanyahu's Next Corruption Probe

Fredrick Soto
February 21, 2018

The latest suspicions emerged from a corruption probe involving former Netanyahu aide Nir Hefetz, who on Sunday was arrested along with another Netanyahu associate Shlomo Filber.

Netanyahu, who was the Communications Minister until 2017, is now not a suspect in this affair, according to the police, but local media widely reported that he is expected to be questioned in the recent days.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in all the cases.

"A senior public servant was approached with a proposal to help promote her appointment to the position of attorney general, allegedly in exchange for a future promise by the candidate regarding her future decision in a certain criminal case", the police said in a statement.

Gerstel was shocked by the attempted bribe and told then-Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut about it.

Police investigators suspect that in return for Bezeq's subsidiary news website Walla's favorable coverage of Netanyahu, Communications Ministry regulators-when Netanyahu was serving as Communications Minister concurrent with his tenure as prime minister-gave Bezeq preferential treatment in order to increase the communications giant's profits - enough to enable Boss Elovitch to repay the huge sums he had borrowed in order to gain control of the Bezeq empire.

"Nir Hefetz never presented this ludicrous offer to the prime minister and his wife, he was never asked by them to make such an offer and we can't imagine that Hefetz would even imagine such a thing", Netanyahu said.

Shaul Elovitch, a family friend of Netanyahu's who controls telecoms firm Bezeq through his Eurocom holding company, was arrested along with his wife, his son and Bezeq's CEO Stella Handler.

Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid Party, said that if Netanyahu doesn't want to resign, he should at least declare himself "incapacitated", allowing a caretaker prime minister to be appointed.

Hefetz, who served as Netanyahu's spokesman between 2014 and 2017, denied the allegations, according to Hadashot TV news.

Last week, in connection with two other cases, Israeli police recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, "opening the way for what could be the biggest challenge yet to the right-wing leader's political survival", says Reuters.

The prime minister also responded to reports of an alleged 2015 offer by a former spokesperson for the Netanyahu family, Nir Hefetz, to appoint a judge as attorney general if she agreed to halt an investigation into the prime minister's wife Sara.

Netanyahu is accused of receiving lavish gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. In return, police say Netanyahu had operated on Milchan's behalf on United States' visa matters, legislated a tax break and connected him with an Indian businessman.

"He will try to emphasize to the Israeli public his value as someone who they have to thank for the strong economy and for Israel's standing in the world", said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Netanyahu rejected the suspicions and said they had no substance.

This would not be the first time that Netanyahu has been accused of trying to win good press in corrupt ways, as police believe the premier sought a secret deal for favourable coverage with the publisher of top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot, whose publisher Arnon Moses could also face bribery charges.

The attorney general must now decide how to move forward with the police recommendations, a process that could take months.

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