Former Netanyahu aide Nir Hefetz.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top communications aide, Nir Hefetz, and Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch were released from police custody by the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, but were ordered to remain under house arrest until March 13.
The only exceptions to the house arrest, according to Sunday’s court order, are for traveling to their lawyers’ offices and even that can only be done upon notifying the police in advance.
Both Hefetz and Elovitch had several other conditions imposed regarding their release as part of the ongoing investigation into Case 4000.
In Case 4000, former Netanyahu campaign manager and director-general of the Communications Ministry Shlomo Filber, as part of a plea deal, has accused the prime minister of directing a complex media-bribery scheme.
In the scheme, Filber and Netanyahu allegedly ensured state policies favorable to Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister by the major news site, Walla.
Hefetz and Elovitch each had to post NIS 50,000 bail with each of them obligated to pay a potential total of NIS 200,000 as part of the bail process.
Elovitch also cannot leave the country for six months, cannot enter a Bezeq office for 45 days and cannot contact other suspects in the case for 90 days.
Likewise, Hefetz cannot enter a government office for 45 days and cannot contact other suspects in the case for 90 days.
Judge Ala Masrawa made an exception from the restriction on Elovitch’s contact with other suspects to allow him to speak with his wife, Iris, and his son, Or, who are also suspects.
Officially, they are only allowed to talk about subjects besides the case.
But it appeared that the police’s complex, simultaneous six-person interrogation on Friday was partially designed to get all the information they needed prior to releasing the Elovitch family, presuming that it would be difficult to prevent them from discussing the case.
On Friday, Netanyahu was questioned for five hours regarding Case 4000. He confirmed that he contacted Elovitch, but said it was out of “ideological motives,” Channel 10 News reported on Saturday night.
Netanyahu said that he never talked with Elovitch about giving benefits to Bezeq, nor that he would act on Elovitch’s behalf in exchange for favorable coverage, according to the report.
“Never happened,” he was quoted as telling the investigators.
While the prime minister was questioned, his wife, Sara Netanyahu; Elovitch; Elovitch’s wife, Iris; Hefetz; and a former senior official in the Communications Ministry, who is considered close to Netanyahu, were also all being questioned.
Both the prime minister and his wife were reportedly confronted with recordings submitted to the police by Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua, in which Elovitch and his wife can be heard pressuring Yeshua to implement favorable coverage for the couple.
In one text message, Iris Elovitch told Yeshua: “Help us because the Netanyahus are helping us and they will [keep] helping us.”
Sara Netanyahu also denied any wrongdoing in her questioning, according to reports. She told interrogators that her husband “did not know about her text messages with Iris Elovitch.”
“I asked her as a friend [to carry out favorable coverage on Walla], from ideological motives. I never dealt with benefits to Bezeq,” she was quoted as saying by Channel 10 News.
It was previously reported that Sara Netanyahu texted Iris Elovitch in 2015 regarding an article that was published on Walla and reprimanded her.
“You are killing me. You are slaughtering us. You are ruining the country,” she wrote.
“What kind of a website is it?” she asked. “What’s going on here? Change it. Do something with it. You are the owners of the website. Do it quickly.”
The Netanyahus are expected to be questioned again shortly after returning from the US.
In additional questioning, the prime minister is expected to be questioned also about Case 3000, the “Submarine Affair.”Udi Shaham contributed to this report.