New details have come to light on the alleged bribery deal discussed between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Yedioth Ahronoth and Ynet publisher Arnon Mozes. The proposed deal included a sharp change in the coverage of the prime minister by the Yedioth Ahronoth group in exchange for Netanyahu’s promise to promote legislation that would severely damage the free daily, Moses’ competitor, Israel Hayom.
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According to sources in the Justice Ministry, top officials in the police and the prosecution are unanimous that the deal offered by Mozes to Netanyahu is clearly bribery.
According to information obtained by Haaretz, Mozes told Netanyahu that he would do everything so that Netanyahu would stay in power as long as he wanted. Haaretz also learned that Mozes, who is the owner of Yedioth Ahronoth as well as its editor-in-chief, proposed that Netanyahu choose a number of journalists and promised to hire them immediately in the group’s media outlets.
Mozes’ intention was allegedly to ensure that Yedioth cover Netanyahu in a positive light. In exchange, he asked Netanyahu to promote legislation in the Knesset that would require Israel Hayom to be sold to consumers rather than given away. This would allow Yedioth to return to the dominant position it held before the appearance of Israel Hayom, which is owned by Netanyahu’s political patron, the American-Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Netanyahu allegedly responded positively to Mozes’ proposal and promised to work to move the matter ahead, saying that he would have to check how to implement the deal between them with other politicians. Netanyahu allegedly promised Mozes that he would work to close their deal after the Knesset elections of March 2015.
However, the deal, which was allegedly hammered out a few months before the elections, was never closed. The Yedioth group’s outlets threw their support massively behind Zionist Union co-chairman, MK Isaac Herzog, leading the secret talks between Netanyahu and Mozes to run aground.
Negotiations between Netanyahu and Mozes allegedly spanned a number of meetings in 2014, and were stormy. The police are said to have more than one recording of the talks between the two, extending over several hours. The prime minister was allegedly the one who initiated the meetings.
Haaretz also learned that Netanyahu and Mozes held a number of meetings as far back as 2009, mediated by a well-known businessman and media figure. During those meetings the two attempted to reach agreement on a number of issues. A report in the Haaretz weekend edition two months ago revealed Netanyahu’s alleged secret plans, stating that according to an individual who met with Netanyahu in 2009, the latter told him that Netanyahu was keen to improve relations with Mozes, hinting he could even get rival daily Israel Hayom closed if his relations with Mozes improved.
A week after the Haaretz piece came out, TheMarker's Nati Tucker shed additional light on the contacts between Netanyahu and Mozes. He detailed events that occurred several months before the 2009 election that put Netanyahu back in office. "He promised me that Israel Hayom wouldn’t publish a weekend edition,” Mozes told associates at the time.
But something went wrong and the deal fell through.
According to officials in the Justice Ministry, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit considered the Netanyahu-Mozes recordings a very serious matter when he first became aware of them. From the outset there was reportedly consensus among senior police officials and the prosecution that the deal Mozes had proposed to Netanyahu clearly involved bribery.
However, the decision to question Netanyahu under caution, meaning that he could face criminal charges, is said to have troubled Mendelblit. He first sought to question Mozes under caution and after that, he decided that Netanyahu would also be so questioned.
Months went by from the time Mendelblit first became aware of the recording and until he decided to open a criminal investigation. According to an official in the legal system, the long delay was due to the fact that the attorney general wanted to move the investigation ahead secretly on two tracks – a probe of the benefits Netanyahu and his family allegedly received from wealthy patrons, and the Netanyahu-Mozes recordings.
Mendelblit had originally intended to launch an open investigation on the discussions between the prime minister and the Yedioth publisher in September around the holidays, but according to justice officials, a development in the benefits affair led the attorney general to wait a few months before questioning Netanyahu under caution.
It is believed that the investigation of the two affairs will not take long, and after the police has finished taking statements it will wrap it up and make its recommendations to the prosecution.
A source speaking for the prime minister said, “The whole supposed affair will turn out to be nothing, and that will be the case for claims coming out now in the media. We repeat: there will be nothing because there is nothing."
Attorneys Navit Negev and Iris Niv-Sabag said on Mozes' behalf that they cannot respond while the investigation is ongoing. "We suggest waiting until the investigation is over, when the full picture is made clear."