Israel's Prosecutor to Recommend Indicting Netanyahu in Luxury Gifts Case

Prime minister to be questioned again in separate case involving alleged quid pro quo relationship with telecom tycoon

Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu at their residence, May 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan is expected to receive the internal prosecutor’s office file on the cigars and champagne case criminal investigation against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next month, with a recommendation to press charges expected. Netanyahu and his wife are suspected in the case of receiving expensive gifts worth about 1 million shekels ($282,000) over a period of years from wealthy benefactors.

The Netanyahus deny any wrongdoing in the case, saying that the gifts were from friends. Liat Ben Ari of the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s Office Taxation and Economics Division is expected to complete her evaluation of the case, dubbed Case 1000, in the next several days. Her evaluation is expected to include a recommendation to indict the prime minister, but it has not been decided yet whether to recommend charging him with bribery or fraud and breach of trust.

In addition, police will again question Netanyahu about the Bezeq-Walla graft case, Case 4000, on June 12, sources say. His wife, Sara, may face questioning at the same time in the case, which involves alleged ties with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of telecom giant Bezeq. The Netanyahus are likely to be asked about statements made by their former confidant, Nir Hefetz. Hefez turned state’s evidence and gave police text messages and recordings. These allegedly suggest an improper quid pro quo relationship between the Netanyahus and Elovitch, whose Bezeq corporation owns the Walla news website.

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According to Channel 10 News, one of the text messages was sent by Sara Netanyahu to Elovitch’s wife a day after the prime minister had approved the merger deal between the satellite television company Yes and Bezeq, which benefitted the giant telecommunication corporation. Sara Netanyahu allegedly expressed resentment over the Walla site’s coverage of the couple, despite the prime minister’s approval of the deal. Last Friday Haaretz reported that, in one of the recordings, Elovitch said: “I understand he was willing to commit suicide for me,” in describing the governmental assistance Bezeq received from Netanyahu, although Elovitch denies that he was referring to the prime minister.

In the recording, Elovitch is said to have expressed fear that Netanyahu would stop benefitting the company due to unfavorable coverage in Walla. Recently another confidant of the Netanyahus, Natan Eshel, was also called to testify on the case.

The Israel Television News Company, formerly Channel 2 News, has reported a new development in another corruption case over which the prime minister is being investigated, Case 2000, involving alleged discussions between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes over future government policies benefitting Yedioth in exchange for favorable coverage of the prime minister.

Hefetz, it was reported, told the police of another figure involved in the case, who is about to be questioned. Following the new information provided by Hefetz, the Netanyahu couple is due to be questioned again about this case, as is MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union).The police have recommended charging Netanyahu and Mozes with bribery for the alleged deal the two made to provide Netanyahu with slanted, favorable coverage in Yedioth Ahronoth, in exchange for passing a law that would restrict Israel Hayom’s circulation.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in response: “The prime minister did not act on Elovitch’s behalf but always acted on practical considerations and all Netanyahu’s decisions regarding Bezeq were made in keeping with the recommendations of committees, not in exchange for favorable coverage or anything else.”

MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) is expected to testify in connection with another case, involving alleged improprieties at the prime minister’s residences. Sara Netanyahu was indicted in September 2017 for fraud and breach of trust for excessive spending on catering at the prime minister’s residence, while falsely claiming the house did not employ a cook. The indictment details a spending of 359,000 shekels of state funding on catering.

Sara Netanyahu’s lawyers are still trying to reach an agreement with Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to close the case against her in exchange for her returning part of the money that was allegedly fraudulently paid for the meals. Mendelblit’s staff and Netanyahu’s lawyers are now negotiating the sum Mrs. Netanyahu would return. Mendelblit insists she must repay money first, before a settlement is made. He has set aside several days for the talks.