Shaul Elovitch, owner of the Bezeq telecommunications company..
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
The owner of the Walla news site admitted to investigators on Tuesday that he changed the slant of his coverage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, due to their requests but not because of any bribe, according to a Channel Ten report.
Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch, who is the controlling shareholder and former chairman of Bezeq, were questioned simultaneously on Tuesday over Case 4000, also known as the “Bezeq Affair.”
This was the tenth time police grilled Netanyahu, and it’s likely the five-hour questioning won’t be the last.
In Case 4000, the prime minister is alleged to have ordered top aide Shlomo Filber – who he appointed as director-general of the Communications Ministry – to issue favorable rulings for Bezeq. That reportedly included getting antitrust regulators to approve Bezeq’s merger with satellite TV unit Yes.
Bezeq’s news site – Walla! – has been accused of exchanging that favor for giving positive coverage to Netanyahu and his wife, with the prime minister’s aide Nir Hefetz managing the contact. Hefetz has become a state witness and is now testifying against his former boss.
Elovitch, who is said to have coordinated the coverage, reportedly told investigators Tuesday that he called Walla’s director, Ilan Yeshua, telling him to change reports. “I could not ignore the requests of Sara and the rest of the Netanyahu family. I did not want to annoy the prime minister.
He was my regulator.
What did you expect? Should I ignore these requests? But I never expected anything in return. I did not talk to Netanyahu about regulatory benefits and there was no bribery,” Channel Ten quoted Elovitch as saying.
Netanyahu was communications minister until he resigned in May of last year in light of the police investigations.
Elovitch’s lawyer said in response to the report: “Again and again we realize that the rights of those being interrogated have been trampled. Again, this is a forbidden and distorted leak that we cannot relate to on its own merits because the subject is under police investigation. Of course, Mr. Elovitch denies the suspicions against him and did not consider giving a bribe to the prime minister.”
Channel Ten also reported that Netanyahu presented police investigators with documents which he claimed prove that Bezeq lost money during his tenure as communications minister. According to the prime minister, the documents recommending the Bezeq-Yes deal prove he did not push the issue in order to financially benefit Elovitch.
Netanyahu’s lawyers and advisers, Yitzhak Molcho and David Shimron, were also questioned over Netanyahu’s relationship with Elovitch.
Following the interrogation, a statement released on behalf of Netanyahu said that “Case 4000 never happened.”
Investigators had been expected to present Netanyahu with new evidence provided by state witness Nir Hefetz, a former spokesman for the Netanyahu family. Addressing Hefetz’s evidence, the statement noted that: “Nothing new was presented to the prime minister today.”
“Prime Minister Netanyahu has never made a deal with Elovitch in exchange for sympathetic coverage. On the contrary, over the years Prime Minister Netanyahu has consistently been reported on in a hostile manner by the Walla website. This negative coverage culminated in a flood of virulent articles on the eve of the 2015 elections, in an attempt to persuade the public to vote against him. This is exactly the period of time when he is accused of having allegedly made the Bezeq-Yes deal,” the statement said.
“The claim of a special relationship with Elovitch in the Bezeq-Yes deal is also baseless. The prime minister signed the merger after a series of decisions by professional committees, including the Antitrust Authority and the Cable and Satellite Council, and after an explicit directive by the Ministry of Communications’ legal advisor,” the statement continued.
Police released a statement confirming that the prime minister had been questioned for several hours at his residence as part of the anti-corruption investigation carried out by the Lahav 433 unit.
“The investigation is being carried out with the assistance of the State Attorney and with the approval of the Attorney General.
There are no further details available,” the police said in a statement.
Max Schindler contributed to this report.