Former Netanyahu media adviser Nir Hefetz.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
The Tel Aviv District Court rejected the appeals of Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch and the prime minister’s former media adviser Nir Hefetz on Tuesday, made against the magistrate’s court decision to extend their remands until Sunday.
Elovitch and Hefetz are the two main suspects in police Case 4000, otherwise known as the “Bezeq-Walla! affair”. This police corruption investigation looks into the relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Elovitch, who also owns the Walla! news website.
Police suspect that Netanyahu acted to benefit Bezeq in return for favorable coverage on the news site.
Their appeal came in light of the so-called “texting affair,” in which it was revealed that Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz and Israel Securities Authority prosecutor Eran Shaham-Shavit were texting each other regarding decisions that the judge would make on the suspects’ remand extension.
Judge Yossi Topf said that despite the argument the attorneys presented, he sees no reason at this point to release the suspects.
In his decision, Topf essentially backed the decision of Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Ala Maswara, who said on Monday that the evidence that was found so far in the case was too strong to let the suspects go.
Channel 10 News reported on Tuesday that the reason the police and the Israel Security Authority are asking to keep Hefetz and Elovitch under custody for such a long time has to do with evidence that is tied to Netanyahu, who is expected to be questioned by police investigators on Friday.
The report said that releasing them before the questioning might lead to an obstruction of justice.
Hefetz is suspected of bribery and obstruction of justice. He is at the center of both the Bezeq-Walla! affair and the police case that is looking into an alleged attempt to appoint judge Hila Gerstl as attorney-general in 2015 in return for closing police cases involving Sara Netanyahu, dubbed Case 1270.
During the discussion at the magistrate’s court on Monday, one of the Israel Security Authority attorneys said Elovitch is suspected of receiving about NIS 1 billion in bribes.
In an earlier discussion on Tuesday, Israel Security Authority lawyer Ronit Tirosh became the first state prosecutor to publicly mention Netanyahu in the context of the alleged criminal scheme underlying Case 4000.
Tirosh did not accuse the prime minister of a crime directly – the way that media reports say that his former aide Shlomo Filber has directly pointed the finger at him as the mastermind of the scheme to exchange positive regulatory decisions for positive media coverage.
Netanyahu’s merely being mentioned in the context of “the very severe case of bribery... in which a leading news website was used to produce maximum positive coverage... in exchange for positive regulation by the Communications Ministry, the Communications Minister [Netanyahu] and the director-general of the Communications Ministry,” was a new low point in the prime minister’s legal sagas.
The prosecution spokespeople played down the statement and said it was only made in the context of a pre-trial theory regarding the remand detention of former Netanyahu aide Hefetz, as opposed to an actual criminal trial.
They made it clear that the attorney-general is still not near a decision about whether Netanyahu has committed any crimes in Case 4000.
At the same time, the prosecution’s denials to The Jerusalem Post of the likelihood of criminal charges against the prime minister in Case 4000 have been noticeably weaker than in other cases.
In response to the reports, Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday: “After they claimed that the prime minister smoked cigars in the amount of NIS 1 million, here comes the new balloon: benefits in NIS 1 billion. But [the truth is that] all the actions [of Netanyahu regarding Bezeq] were done in a professional manner and based on the recommendation of professional officials and legal advice.
“Not million, not trillion and not nothing,” he said.