(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday charged that weekend reports allegedly showing he conspired with a top Israeli newspaper publisher were part of a "campaign of leaks designed to mislead the public."
In a meeting of his Likud faction, the premier reiterated previous assertions he has made denying any wrongdoing, adding that he could not divulge further details of the matter.
"What I can tell you is that there is a campaign of tendentious leaks designed to mislead the public and distort the real picture as if there were crimes, which don't exist, and this will soon become clear," he said of the ongoing investigation into the allegations.
Netanyahu warned the political opposition against rushing to celebrate over the suspected corruption investigation, stressing that his government "will be here and will continue to lead the country for years to come."
Earlier on Sunday morning, Yediot Aharonot
publisher Arnon "Noni" Mozes was questioned under caution by police for a second time in the alleged corruption case involving Netanyahu.
Police have been investigating Netanyahu regarding allegations that he and Mozes sought to conspire to weaken Israel Hayom
, which is owned by the premier's confidant, US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Over the weekend, Channel 2 released parts of a 2014 conversation in which Netanyahu allegedly conspires with Mozes to weaken rival paper Israel Hayom
in exchange for favorable coverage of the prime minister.
Police are expected to question Netanyahu this week for a third time regarding the case.
According to the transcripts, Netanyahu sought journalists who would cover him in a good light as well as an agreement with Adelson over weakening his paper. In 2014, Netanyahu told Mozes to recruit journalists who would “lower their level of hostility toward him from 9.5 to 7.5,” to which Mozes responded, “I get it. Don’t worry about it – we need to ensure that you will be prime minister,” according to the report.
Netanyahu told Mozes that he would have liked journalist Haggai Segal to be recruited to Yediot
, but that he was unavailable because “Sheldon [Adelson] took him for [the Netanyahu-friendly] Makor Rishon
,” the report continued.
“Every day I have one that kills me,” the prime minister reportedly said, referring to opinion pieces by Yediot
columnist and Channel 2 reporter Amnon Abramovich. Netanyahu later asked that Mozes make Abramovich “balanced,” Channel 2 reported.
Police are investigating Netanyahu regarding allegations that he and Mozes sought to conspire to weaken Israel Hayom.
“What’s the bottom line? How can we do this quickly?” Mozes said according to a Channel 2 report on Friday. “We can legislate it,” Netanyahu is said to have responded, allegedly referring to the so-called Israel Hayom bill.
In 2014, Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel initiated the bill, which sought to ban free newspapers, including Israel Hayom. Two weeks after the legislation passed in preliminary reading, Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset, ending the bill’s progress.
MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) said on Saturday that, “The attorney-general has to make the decision whether to file a bill of indictment that will demand the prompt publication of the full transcript. On a public level, this is a very grave thing. [Avichai] Mandelblit has to decide now so that we know what happened. There’s a risk here that the public will lose faith in the government and in the media.”
Another Yesh Atid MK, Meir Cohen, said, “This is the first time since this government has been established that you can feel new elections in the air. I’m getting this feeling from Likud MKs – they’re telling me, ‘We have the sense that this is the end.’” This is “one of the gravest affairs to have happened in the State of Israel,” Cohen said.Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.