Netanyahu aides named as suspects in new corruption probe

21 February, 2018, 08:05 | Author: Barbara Daniel
  • Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu at a Likud party conference August 2017

Premier Benyamin Netanyahu is at the center of a political storm after the arrest of some of his associates, including his former councilor for relations with the media, Nir Hefetz, and Shaul Elovitch, a businessman who controls telecommunications giant Bezeq and popular online daily "Walla", as part of a corruption probe.

Netanyahu can lean, however, on the ever-growing power of the right wing within the Jewish community, where his indictment is seen as a Deep State-like attempt to oust a prime minister in line with their pro-settler worldview in order to bring about elections that could lead to the victory of a centrist such as Yair Lapid, who served as a key witness against Netanyahu.

Mr Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and said the latest charges against him were merely a continuation of a wider media-orchestrated witch hunt against him and his family.

Hefetz is suspected of suggesting, through a middleman, to Judge Hila Gerstel in 2015 that she could be appointed attorney general if she dismissed a pending case against Sara Netanyahu's excessive household spending.

Police didn't offer the identities of either suspect, but Netanyahu revealed one to be his former family spokesperson, Nir Hefetz, while denying the allegations.

The arrests were carried out Sunday following a joint investigation between police and the Israel Securities Authority, which had conducted its own probe a year ago.

Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder and CEO of the country's biggest telecoms company, and his wife have also been arrested as part of the probe.

"As for the second claim which is no less preposterous and no less perfidious regarding appointment of the Attorney General: "I never asked Nir Hefetz about this, he never offered me anything about it, and you know what?" Trump, said a White House official, "has a tremendous relationship" with Netanyahu and is looking forward to meeting with him.

In its new probe, police suspect that Bezeq received regulatory benefits in return for enabling favourable media coverage of Netanyahu on Walla, a news website that is also controlled by Eurocom.

Netanyahu's government also introduced a bill to bar criminal investigations against the sitting prime ministers. A statement issued on Sunday by a personal spokesman to Netanyahu said all decisions related to Bezeq "were made according to recommendations of expert committees and expert officials".

In total, police say they arrested seven people on multiple charges including obstruction of justice and fraud.

Former journalists at the site have attested to being pressured to refrain from negative reporting of Netanyahu.

He is accused of receiving lavish gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.

"He will try to emphasize to the Israeli public his value as someone who they have to thank for the strong economy and for Israel's standing in the world", said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

In return, police say Mr Netanyahu had operated on Mr Milchan's behalf on USA visa matters, legislated a tax break and connected him with an Indian businessman.

Mr Netanyahu has long accused the Israeli press of being biased against him and has taken steps to counter it by promoting more sympathetic outlets to him.

Israel's police chief, Roni Alsheikh, said Tuesday that the police recommendations were coordinated with the attorney general and were handled in a professional manner.

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