Netanyahu Confidants Released Under Strict Conditions After Two-week Detention

Bezeq owner Elovitch and former Netanyahu adviser Nir Hefetz are embroiled in a police investigation regarding coverage of the Netanyahus on an Israeli news website

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Shaul Elovitch (front) and Nir Hefetz (back) at a court hearing.
Shaul Elovitch (front) and Nir Hefetz (back) at a court hearing. Credit: meged gozani
Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

The Tel Aviv District Court released for house arrest on Sunday morning two confidants of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who have been detained by police for the past two weeks as part of the telecom affair dubbed Case 4000 by police.

The two confidants are Shaul Elovitch, the owner of Israel's telecom titan Bezeq, and Nir Hefetz, a former media adviser for the premier. Hefetz is suspected of operating as the mediator on behalf of the prime minister. He is alleged to have communicated to Elovitch Netanyahu's requests to receive better media coverage by the Walla news website, which Elovitch owns.

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According to police statements, the prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu, is suspected of demanding on several occasions from Elovitch (and specifically his wife Iris) that headlines and news reports on the Walla website be altered in order to compliment her and her husband.

Both Netanyahu and his wife were questioned simultaneously by police for over five hours this past Friday.

Elovitch and Hefetz have been restricted from contacting anyone involved in the affair, which reportedly resulted in major benefits for the Bezeq company in return for the favorable coverage.

Elovitch is permitted to speak to wife Iris and son Or, who have been arrested and interrogated as well and are currently under house arrest. However, they are not allowed to discuss the topics of the investigation.

The judge presiding over the case did not approve the police's request to prevent them from being interviewed by the media throughout this period. Hefez was ordered to stay away from government offices for 45 days, and he and Elovitch were both restricted from leaving the country for 180 days.

In his interrogation over the weekend, the prime minister said that his decisions concerning Bezeq were professional, and that he did not receive tilted coverage in his favor from Walla. Sara Netanyahu was asked about text messages she had sent Iris Elovitch requesting that news items on the site be changed. The two were interrogated simultaneously under suspicion of fraud, breach of trust and taking bribes from Elovitch. The premier is expected to undergo another interrogation after he returns from his visit to the U.S.

Last week, when Hefetz and Elovitch's arrest period was extended, the judge said that "while the suspects' rights may be hurt as a result of their remaining behind bars, the public interest to see the interrogation conclude in favor of pursuing the truth overrides [this conflict]. My conclusion is that releasing the suspects at this stage could handle a harsh blow to the remainder of the investigation, especially due to the fact that we expect important investigative actions to take place in the coming days."

At a bail hearing for Elovitch and Hefetz this week, prosecutor Judith Tirosh said this is “a very serious case of allegedly giving and taking bribes, of granting sympathetic coverage — and that’s an understatement that distorts reality, and of harnessing a leading website for favorable reporting and editing, in exchange for regulatory benefits by the Communications Ministry, the communications minister and the ministry director general whose value to Eurocom was between 680 million and one billion shekels [$195 million to $287 million].” 

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