Police arrested seven people, including two close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior figures from Bezeq Telecommunications Company on Sunday in Case 4000.In the investigation into what is now dubbed the “Bezeq-media case,” the officials were brought in for police questioning and the Tel Aviv District Court ordered both Netanyahu associates to be kept in custody for another five days.
Max Schindler contributed to this report.
The case centers around the two associates, and potentially the prime minister himself, helping Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage of Netanyahu on Elovitch’s news site Walla! Most names and details of the case are under gag order until the suspects have been fully questioned.According to reports, Netanyahu himself will be questioned under caution once enough of the case has been built through questioning the current suspects. The police are seeking a state’s witness who will turn on the prime minister.Police said in a statement earlier Sunday that due to new evidence that was found by the Israel Securities Authority – which conducted the investigation thus far – a new joint police-ISA probe has been launched.Case 4000 looks into the relations between the prime minister and Elovitch, who owns both Walla! News Portal and Bezeq.Netanyahu was the communications minister from March 2015 until February 2017 – while simultaneously acting as prime minister.Police reportedly suspect Netanyahu acted through different messengers to benefit his close friend Elovitch and Bezeq, in return for favorable coverage on Walla! Transferring the case from the ISA to a joint investigation seems to indicate that it entails more than just securities offenses and could include bribery and fraud issues, which are more in the purview of the police.Walla! CEO Ilan Yeshua, believed to be among the main witnesses in the case, was summoned to testify at the ISA offices.Yeshua has told close associates that he was pressured by Elovitch to order pro-Netanyahu coverage on the website and that he carried out those orders.Also, on Sunday, former Walla! editor- in-chief Yinon Magal was summoned to testify in the case.Magal, who held the position in 2013-2014, told Army Radio last week that, “there was pressure” applied on him to provide favorable coverage for Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.He later clarified on Twitter that “Pressure was applied not only regarding Netanyahu, but from all kinds of political forces.”Magal was subsequently elected as Bayit Yehudi MK in March 2015 and resigned over a sexual harassment scandal later that year.THE PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE responded with multiple statements on Sunday and said that claims he acted to benefit Bezeq in return for favorable coverage in Walla! are “false claims.”“The prime minister did not act in the benefit of Elovich and Bezeq – not for favorable coverage and not for anything else,” it said in a statement.“While this false claim receives leading headlines in the media, there are almost no mentions of the actions of dozens of MKs to pass the bill to close Israel Hayom in return for favorable coverage from [Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon] “Noni” Mozes. How hypocritical,” it added.Later, a statement was issued saying that after “the air went out of” Cases 1000 (the “illegal gifts affair”) and 2000 (the “Yediot Aharonot affair”), and Case 3000 (the “submarine affair”) was found “to have no air, the media created intense pressure to fill up a new balloon – Case 4000, which will also lose all of its air.”The statement alleged that the Justice Ministry has supported Netanyahu’s narrative in Case 4000 in the past in response to allegations against the prime minister by the state comptroller.STATE COMPTROLLER Joseph Shapira issued a report in July stating that Netanyahu and the Communications Ministry “did not disclose to the attorney-general the full list” of his conflicts of interest connected to Walla! and Bezeq’s owner when requested to.Multiple rounds of review of the prime minister’s possible conflicts of interest by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit from June 2016 onward gradually reduced his powers as communications minister until he fully relinquished the portfolio in February 2017.These reviews came after media reported in late 2015 that Netanyahu had failed to disclose his ties to Elovitch.Further, the revelations in the July State Comptroller’s Report – that aspects of Netanyahu’s conflicts of interest as communications minister and as a friend of Elovitch were not disclosed to Mandelblit even in June 2016 – came as Elovitch was under criminal investigation for allegedly violating conflict-of-interest principles in a transaction between two of his companies: Bezeq and Yes.The report said that the Prime Minister’s Office “did not deny that discussions between the prime minister and Elovitch may have touched on issues that the prime minister was involved in in his capacity as communications minister.”According to Shapira’s report, the Communications Ministry put together a list of 12 issues where the Netanyahu-Elovitch conflict could be problematic on a policy level.Aspects of this list were not provided to Mandelblit when he permitted Netanyahu to continue as communications minister in June 2016, provided the prime minister refrained from involvement in certain issues.In other words, Shapira said Mandelblit’s list of issues was incomplete, and the attorney-general might have directed Netanyahu to entirely give up the position of communications minister in June 2016 had he seen the full list.In fact, neither the ministry nor the prime minister provided this full list to the comptroller in August 2016 when responding to Shapira’s request for information.The report does not reveal how Shapira’s office acquired the list, only stating that it acquired it over the course of its review of the issue from mid-2016 to June 2017.But a spokesman for the comptroller in July clarified to The Jerusalem Post that there was no point at which the Communications Ministry or the Prime Minister’s Office voluntary provided the information, and that it was acquired via inspections performed by the comptroller’s staff as authorized by law.IN THE SAME report, Shapira questioned whether then Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber should not have had Elovitch-related policy decisions removed from his authority.While not questioning Filber’s qualifications, Shapira wrote that his status as the Likud campaign chairman in the 2015 election, and as a key Netanyahu aide in earlier years, meant that his appointment in the ministry was a close political appointment.Shapira expressed criticism that the attorney-general did not review or impose conflict-of-interest parameters on Filber, and called for a standardization of criteria to apply in any similar situation in the future.In November, the ISA named Elovitch and Filber as suspects in a securities investigation, though none of the suspects in the now-wider Bezek-Walla! probe have been named to date.Facing three major comptroller criticisms of its judgment relating to Netanyahu’s scandals, including that the decisions may have allowed aspects of the scandal to broaden, the Post also learned in July that the Attorney-General’s Office viewed all of its decisions as defensible from what it knew at the time.Bezeq shares were down 1.24% to NIS 5.17 on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange as of closing Sunday.Since the ISA began its probe of Bezeq in June 2017, the company’s stock price has continued to go down.That has led to activist investors calling for new management, with US billionaire Paul Singer demanding a shake-up of Bezeq’s board and the restructuring of Elovitch’s stake in the company.
PM Netanyahu reacts to claims against him in Case 4000, February 2018.(Facebook/
Max Schindler contributed to this report.