Israeli Police to Question Billionaire in London as Part of Netanyahu Graft Probe

Police are looking into whether Netanyahu was involved in the sale of a TV channel to Len Blavatnik, and question him in relations to Case 2000, in which the PM is suspected of attempting to negotiate favorable media coverage

Netanyahu and Len Blavatnik.
Ohad Zwigenberg and Bloomberg

Police investigators will fly to England on Wednesday to obtain a deposition from a billionaire friend of Benjamin Netanyahu as part of their investigation into the prime minister, Channel 2 television reported Tuesday night.

The report said police will take testimony from Len Blavatnik in connection to Case 2000. The case involves suspicions that Netanyahu tried to negotiate a deal with Arnon Mozes, publisher of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, under which Yedioth would give Netanyahu favorable coverage in exchange for legislation curbing the operations of its main rival, Sheldon Adelson-funded free daily, Israel Hayom.

Police suspect that as part of these negotiations, Netanyahu may also have tried to mediate a deal with Mozes under which Blavatnik would purchase a stake in Yedioth. No such purchase ever took place.

Though Blavatnik is slated to talk with investigators about Case 2000, sources familiar with the details of the investigation say his testimony could actually end up being also significant for Case 1000, which involves suspicions that Netanyahu accepted illegal gifts from wealthy businessmen.

Blavatnik, who has homes in both England and Russia, is considered close to Netanyahu.

He is also a co-owner of two Israeli television stations, the sports channel and Channel 10 (the latter via his stake in RGE, which owns 51 percent of the channel).

Police are investigating whether Netanyahu was involved behind the scenes in the sale of Channel 10 to Blavatnik, and if so, whether this involvement served the financial interests of Arnon Milchan. The latter, who owns a minority stake in Channel 10, is one of the businessmen suspected of giving Netanyahu illicit gifts. Police suspect that Milchan may have benefited from the fact that the majority stake went to Blavatnik’s RGE rather than a rival bidder.

Netanyahu has already been questioned as a suspect in Case 1000. But if police find evidence that Netanyahu worked to promote Milchan’s interests in the communications market, this would strengthen the case against him. So far, the only thing Netanyahu is known to have done for Milchan is to help him renew his visa to remain in the United States.

Evidence that Netanyahu tried to mediate the sale of Yedioth to Blavatnik would be less significant for Case 2000, senior police officers said, because the case is primarily concerned with the negotiations between Netanyahu and Mozes over the prime minister’s support for a bill that would hurt Israel Hayom.

What investigators are hoping to get by questioning Blavatnik, the officers said, is support for their suspicion that in an effort to secure Netanyahu’s support for that bill, Mozes not only promised him favorable coverage in Yedioth, but even offered to hire journalists recommended by the prime minister and work to undermine the image of rival politicians, including Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett.