Cases Against Sara Netanyahu and Milchan Closed, Newspaper Publisher to Be Charged With Bribery

Along with his decision to indict Benjamin Netanyahu, pending a hearing, the attorney general announces decisions on other suspects

FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his wife, Sara, en route to Uganda on July 4, 2016.
URIEL SINAI / NYT

Along with his decision to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pending a hearing, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit on Thursday announced his decisions on the other suspects in Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000.

Sara and Yair Netanyahu: Cases closed

Mendelblit has decided to close the cases against his wife, Sara, who was a suspect in two cases, and against son Yair, suspect in one case.

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In one case, dubbed Case 4000, she was suspected of receiving bribes together with her husband and obstructing justice. Even in the initial stages of the investigation Mendelblit had reservations the police questioning Sara Netanyahu for bribery. Mendelblit believed that even if she was involved in the requests to slant the coverage on Walla – and despite the hints that she was aware of the give-and-take relationship with Shaul Elovitch – the main focus of the case was her husband.Therefore, this result was expected, especially when in December the police announced the closure of the case against the Netanyahus’ son, Yair, who was suspected of similar offenses.

The other case against Sara Netanyahu that Mendelblit decided to close stemmed from a state’s evidence agreement signed with Nir Hefetz, a former adviser to the Netanyahu family. The case involved the terms of his employment as the family's aide. The suspicions were that Sara had deceived the state comptroller when she made it look as if she had paid Hefetz from her own pocket for his services, when in fact Hefetz had worked for years as their personal adviser for free.

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Arnon Milchan: Case closed

U.S.-based businessman Arnon Milchan, one of the stars of Case 1000, will not be prosecuted for bribery, the main accusation against him.

Producer Arnon Milchan accepts the Film Tribute Award at the 26th Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards in New York, November 28, 2016
Evan Agostini / אי־פי

This case began in late 2015, when intelligence information was received about the close ties between Netanyahu and Milchan. A year later Milchan gave evidence in Los Angeles and said that for years he had given the Netanyahu’s, at their request, many lavish gifts including boxes of cigars, bottles of champagne and jewelry. He even expressed disgust at the demands. Milchan was later asked to give evidence again, also in Los Angeles, and he then tried to gloss over parts of his damaging first testimony. The third time he met with Israel Police representatives, in London in August 2017, he was being questioned as a suspect (against Mendelblit’s judgment) for allegedly bribing the prime minister.

Although Milchan had started giving the Netanyahus’ gifts in 2007, before Netanyahu was elected to his second term, the investigation showed that after his election in 2009 the scope and frequency of the gifts significantly increased. Milchan said he was not expecting anything in return for the gifts, and Netanyahu said the gifts were given willingly, as part of a friendship lasting many years. The police recommended that Milchan be prosecuted for bribery, saying that Milchan had gotten some benefits from Netanyahu, ranging from help extending his U.S. visa to assistance when he tried to buy a stake in Channel 2.

Arnon Mozes: Charged with bribery

The publisher of Yedioth Aharonoth, Arnon Mozes, will be charged (subject to a hearing) for offering a bribe to the prime minister (Case 2000). In recordings of conversations between the two that were obtained by police, Mozes is heard committing to change the slant of the Yedioth group’s media properties, which were generally hostile to Netanyahu, and make their coverage more favorable. “Look me in the eyes,” Mozes said to Netanyahu, and promised that he would do everything necessary so his interlocutor could be “prime minister for as long as you want.”

The influential publisher even suggested that the prime minister give him names of government-supporting journalists, whom he promised to employ, hinted that he would undermine Netanyahu’s political rivals with negative reporting and assured him that he would be amenable to any request from the premier.

Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes attends a basketball game in Israel, January 17, 2019.
Nir Keidar

During questioning in 2017, Mozes dissembled. When confronted with his incriminating recorded promises to Netanyahu, the publisher said he was just toying with the prime minister, and that even if he’d wanted to he couldn’t provide Netanyahu with a well-oiled propaganda machine because he had only limited control over the editorial content of the group’s media properties. It’s possible this line of defense could be crumbled by almost anyone who has worked for Yedioth Ahronoth in the past 20 years.

Eitan Cabel: Case Closed

An offshoot of Case 2000 was the investigation of Labor MK Eitan Cabel on suspicion of breach of trust. Cabel was the one who initiated the so-called Israel Hayom bill, which aimed at forcing the free newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson to start charging, and which was reviewed and amended by Mozes. If it had passed, it might have restored Yedioth to its status as Israel’s most widely distributed newspaper (a title it has lost to Israel Hayom). Last January Cabel was questioned about receiving favorable coverage from Yedioth Ahronoth in exchange for advancing the bill.

Cabel had given testimony to the police before becoming a suspect. But the police's attitude toward him changed when contradictions emerged between his testimony and evidence that was collected during the investigation that showed the ties between him and Mozes were more intense than Cabel had let on. Nevertheless, Mendelblit decided there wasn't sufficient grounds to charge him.

Shaul Elovitch in court, February 22, 2018.
Ofer Vaknin

Shaul and Iris Elovitch: Charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust

Although Netanyahu is the central defendant in Case 4000, he isn’t the only one. Mendelblit is indicting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, and his wife Iris, for giving a bribe to the prime minister, money laundering and obstructing justice (subject to a hearing). 

Zeev Rubinstein: Charged with mediating bribery

Another suspect to be charged, subject to a hearing, in Case 4000 is Zeev Rubinstein, a businessman close to both Netanyahu and Elovitch, who lives in New York and is vice president of Israel Bonds. In the past he was a senior executive at Elovitch’s Eurocom Group. Rubinstein is suspected of mediating the alleged bribe on both sides – the favorable coverage for the Netanyahus and the regulatory benefits for Bezeq.

According to a report in TheMarker in June 2017, the Netanyahus usually meet with Rubinstein when they visit the United States, and political circles refer to him as “Sara Netanyahu’s operations chief in New York,” because he’s the one who takes care of the family’s arrangements when they come to the city.

According to a report by Gidi Weitz, when Walla once published a rather boring report about a visit to New York by Netanyahu and his wife, Rubinstein demanded that Elovitch rewrite it to meet the family’s demands. “Shaul, it’s my balls, it’s my head,” he neutral wrote to Elovitch. “Do you want them to kill me or are you prepared to change it and clean it up?”

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit arrives at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem, February 26, 2019.
Emil Salman