Senior media figures will soon be questioned by police about recorded conversations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, publisher of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Haaretz has learned.
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In these recordings, the two can be heard discussing a deal by which Yedioth would grant Netanyahu more favorable coverage in exchange for Netanyahu passing legislation to curb the commercial strength of Yedioth’s main rival, the freebie Israel Hayom.
The planned interrogations are part of an effort by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to speed up the probe of the case.
This week, police questioned Netanyahu’s wife Sara about a different case, involving suspicions that businessmen gave the prime minister and his family expensive gifts.
They also questioned MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) about the Yedioth case. Cabel was the main sponsor of a bill that would have required Israel Hayom, which is free, to start charging for its papers.
Police asked Cabel whether he was aware of the relationship between Mozes and Netanyahu or of the negotiations between the two. But Cabel said he was not asked about the bill itself or about any favors that Yedioth might have given to lawmakers who pushed for the bill.
Police refused to either confirm or deny any of this information.
On Sunday, police questioned Tourism Minister Yariv Levin about the Netanyahu-Mozes case. They were apparently trying to determine whether Netanyahu had spoken with Levin about the possibility of advancing the Israel Hayom bill back in 2014, before the Knesset dissolved in advance of the March 2015 election.
At the time, Levin was chairman of the Knesset House Committee. He and MK Zeev Elkin were not only considered two of Netanyahu’s chief loyalists, but were also the MKs in charge of shepherding legislation through the Knesset on the government’s behalf.
One of the tycoons suspected of giving expensive gifts to the Netanyahus is Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. Police suspect that he gave them cigars and champagne worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.
At the beginning of the week, Channel 10 reported that police had searched Milchan’s office and found receipts for the purchase of cigars and other gifts for Netanyahu adding up to over 400,000 shekels ($105,000). According to that report, additional receipts for gifts worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of shekels were found in the offices of Australian billionaire James Packer.
The report said that Packer routinely provided gifts and other benefits to the prime minister and his family. About a month ago, journalist Raviv Drucker reported on Channel 10 that Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, lived last summer in an apartment owned by Packer in the Royal Beach hotel in Tel Aviv.
According to Drucker, Packer’s lawyer, Jacob Weinroth, met with Interior Minister Aryeh Dery to request that Packer be given permanent residency in Israel. Drucker also reported that Packer’s favors to Yair Netanyahu didn’t stop at hosting him in his high-end Tel Aviv apartment; he also financed Yair’s vacations by giving him flights on his private plane and rooms in expensive hotels.