New Evidence Reinforces Suspicion of Collusion Between Netanyahu and Telecoms Tycoon

New evidence links yet another of Netanyahu's confidants to the allegation that Bezeq-controlled Walla news site provided Netanyahu with biased coverage

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem November 7, 2017.
POOL/REUTERS

Allegations that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch collaborated to serve their mutual interests are backed up by evidence the Israel Securities Authority recently obtained.

This evidence supports the claim, brought in an expose by Haaretz, that the Bezeq-controlled Walla news site provided Netanyahu with coverage biased in his favor.

The information also shows that another of Netanyahu’s confidants, whose name has not been mentioned in connection with this investigation so far, is also involved. Although the authority has had this information for months, neither have its chairman Shmuel Hauser and his team questioned the confidant nor have the attorney general and state prosecutor instructed to open an investigation into the man’s doings.

The authority obtained the latest evidence while probing the Bezeq corruption case. A source familiar with the details told Haaretz several weeks ago it was planning to look into them. However, this week the authority announced it had completed its investigation, recommending to indict Elovitch, Bezeq CEO Stella Handler and other senior company executives, as well as ousted Communications Minister director general Shlomo Filber, Netanyahu’s crony.

Netanyahu, who until the beginning of the year served as communications minister as well, fired the previous director general Avi Berger and appointed Filber in his place in May 2015, two days after the cabinet had been sworn in.

The securities authority said in a statement that the investigation into the case produced evidence of “ongoing deliberate fraud activity” on Filber’s part to advance Bezeq’s interests, among other things by leaking confidential documents to company executives.

The latter are suspected of adding comments to the documents and sometimes even rewriting them.

The authority closed the investigation without inquiring into the evidence regarding Netanyahu and without answering the key question: What was Filber’s motive in using his position systematically to advance Bezeq’s and Elovitch’s interests? Law enforcement sources said closing the case didn’t mean they had stopped dealing with the evidence, adding that the issue remained under examination.

Haaretz’s expose from October 2015 showed how the popular news site Walla, controlled by Bezeq, shielded Netanyahu and especially his wife Sara. The site’s management put pressure on the editorial staff to publish PR reports in favor of the prime minister’s wife, which were dictated by people close to Netanyahu, including his then-spokesman Nir Hefetz. Unfavorable reports about the couple were censored and headlines that could harm their image were changed.

Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua made it clear on numerous occasions that by publishing biased coverage the site was carrying out Elovitch’s policy, and linked the site’s lenient treatment of the Netanyahus to government decisions pertaining to Bezeq.

Indeed, Netanyahu moved at the time to promote Elovitch’s extensive businesses. Netanyahu described his relationship with Elovitch as “a friendship of many years.”

Shortly after entering the Communications Ministry, Netanyahu approved the merger between Bezeq and the Yes satellite company, which benefitted Elovitch.

An expose published in TheMarker on Thursday reveals how the deal was approved with unusual swiftness and in an irregular process, despite the objection of Communications Ministry officials. Filber, who met Elovitch on his first day in office, personally advanced the merger. When his deputy director general refused to sign an opinion approving the deal, Filber commissioned an external company to produce the desired opinion.

The Cable and Satellite approved the deal unanimously, and on the very same day Netanyahu gave it the go ahead.

In appointing himself communications minister, he failed to mention his ties to Elovich or to his close friend Arnon Milchan, one of Channel 10’s owners who allegedly gave Netanyahu hundreds of thousands’ of shekels worth of gifts, to the State Comptroller.

Following Haaretz’s report, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit forbade Netanyahu in June last year to deal with any matter associated with Bezeq.

The Securities Authority declined to respond to questions about “investigations and intelligence."

Bezeq said its chairman “does not intervene in Walla’s editorial considerations and sees it as an independent entity. It added, “We regret the attempt to find fault with this work.”

The Prime Minister’s Office said “Netanyahu has known Elovitch for many years. Any professional matter was discussed only between Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber and Bezeq CEO Stella Handler.”