Tourism Minister Yariv Levin was questioned by police on Sunday as part of a corruption investigation, termed Case 2000, into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alleged dealings with Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes.
Levin, from the Likud, was questioned on his role in promoting legislation in 2014 termed the “Israel Hayom bill,” which sought to end the paper’s free distribution, Channel 2 reported on Wednesday. The bill did not become law.
At a meeting of the Likud faction on Wednesday night, the prime minister said he would not provide information on the matter, but was “aware of all the details,” reiterating what he has said throughout the investigation: “There will be nothing, because there is nothing.” Netanyahu discussed reducing the amount of commercial ads in Yediot’s main competitor, Israel Hayom, in recorded conversations with Mozes, Channel 10 reported. It was previously reported that the two men discussed discontinuing Israel Hayom’s weekend edition. Mozes is due to be questioned again by police in the coming days, the report said.
Netanyahu contends that he was lying in the recording in order to expose extortion by Mozes, Channel 10 reported. According to the report, the Justice Ministry sees a clear-cut attempt at bribery by Mozes, but it is unclear whether Netanyahu violated the law.
In addition, police will ask Sara Netanyahu, possibly as soon as Thursday, to give testimony on the gifts she received, reportedly including large amounts of pink champagne.
Meanwhile, Environmental Protection and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) will also reportedly give testimony on the genesis of the Israel Hayom bill.
Allegations are pouring in accusing Yediot of giving favorable coverage to certain MKs and blacklisting others.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On alleged in a post on her Facebook page that she was blacklisted by the newspaper for voting against the Israel Hayom bill, and that senior Yediot journalists knew about the alleged Netanyahu-Mozes deal.
“If the reports are true, Netanyahu and Mozes should go directly to jail. But it is about time to reveal the true face of some senior figures in Yediot who act like they never suspected that something like that could happen in their paper,” Gal-On wrote.
“The truth is that deals such as this could not be carried out without the cooperation of senior figures in the paper, without the editors and the journalists knowing about it,” she said.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) said sarcastically at a leadership conference in Haifa on Wednesday: “They say that [Yesh Atid chairman Yair] Lapid gets special treatment and [Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali] Bennett gets good coverage, but I wasn’t lucky enough to get my own personal journalist.”
Kahlon also said he “does not want to interfere [in the investigation], and [he] prefer[s] letting the police to do their job.”
This comes after a conversation depicting an alleged quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Mozes was leaked. “If you agree on a [Israel Hayom] law, I will do all I can [to ensure] that you will be here [in power] as long as you want,” Mozes told Netanyahu in a 2014 meeting, Channel 2 reported on Tuesday night. “I look you straight in the eye and say this in the clearest terms possible.”
According to the report, Mozes offered Netanyahu the ability to handpick journalists to provide positive press.
The prime minister is to be questioned for a third time by police this week.
Police have at least two recordings of Netanyahu speaking to Mozes in the Prime Minister’s Office, for approximately one hour each time, Channel 2 reported. The first meeting was held prior to the dissolution of the Knesset in 2014, and the second meeting shortly after the Knesset was dissolved.
The recordings were made by Ari Harow, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, at Netanyahu’s request, according to the report.
Opposition chairman Isaac Herzog appealed on Monday to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, demanding the removal of Netanyahu from his position as communications minister.
Herzog claimed in his appeal that recent media reports prove that Netanyahu has clear interests and a direct connection to Israel Hayom, and that if he is not removed, the Zionist Union will file a petition with the High Court of Justice on Thursday.
The Mozes-Netanyahu recordings could underpin the “Case 2000” file against Netanyahu, which police have kept under wraps. Police are also investigating “Case 1000,” which deals with allegations that Netanyahu accepted expensive cigars and gourmet meals in an illegal manner from Israeli-born movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer.
Case 1000 is more likely to lead to an indictment against Netanyahu, according to the Hebrew media.
Police questioned Netanyahu under caution for a total of eight hours in two sessions last week regarding both cases.