It can be said with caution at this stage that the evidence in the two criminal investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (called Case 1000 and Case 2000 by the Israel Police) has strengthened in recent weeks, and the probe has moved to the next level. The intention is to conclude the investigations within a few months and then to convene and decide on the next step.
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In the investigation dubbed Case 2000, Netanyahu is suspected of agreeing to receive benefits from Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes. Those suspicions have grown stronger with allegedly more evidence of the seriousness of Netanyahu’s intentions to act on the alleged alliance with Mozes.
Mozes was alleged to have offered to provide favorable coverage of Netanyahu, in exchange for which Netanyahu would allegedly have fostered passage of a bill that would restrict the distribution of Yedioth’s rival, the free newspaper Israel Hayom.
This week, Israel Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam gave statements to the Israel Police for the second time. According to a person with knowledge of the details, Adelson’s statement was “of high significance.”
The evidence involving the seriousness of Netanyahu’s intentions regarding Mozes is important chiefly because the prime minister’s main line of defense is that he was ridiculing Mozes, and that neither of them had any intention of making good on the mutual promises that were allegedly made.
The evidence of intent to make good on the alleged deal is one threshold Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has required the police to meet before he decides on the extent to which the alleged negotiations were criminal in nature.
It has also emerged that at an early stage of the investigation, evidence was given allegedly showing that Netanyahu checked with other political figures about the feasibility of passing a law relating to Israel Hayom during an election campaign.
In Case 1000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits from wealthy individuals – first and foremost Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan – suspicions have grown regarding an apparent conflict of interest on Netanyahu’s part, and attempts by the prime minister to act for Milchan not only with regard to the latter’s visa to the United States but also in the media market.
Accountant Ze’ev Feldman, who represented Milchan in Israel and had allegedly been trying to find investment possibilities for him in the Israeli media market, gave statements several times in recent months at the offices of the police's national fraud squad.
People involved in the 2015 sale of Channel 10 – including the key investor in the channel over the past decade, Yossi Maimon – have been summoned to give statements to the police. The police are also checking whether Netanyahu was involved behind the scenes in the sale of Channel 10 to Leonard Blavatnik (a partner in RGE Communications, which owns 51 percent of Channel 10). Blavatnik vied with businessman Ilan Shiloah to buy the channel.
One direction the probe is taking concerns whether Netanyahu intervened in the eventual sale of Channel 10 to Blavatnik in July 2015, and whether this involvement helped Milchan’s interests – because in the deal with Blavatnik, as opposed to the one with Shiloah, Milchan, who owns a percentage of the channel, received money in exchange.
Possible involvement by Netanyahu and one of his close associates is also being examined regarding an attempt to promote Milchan’s interests in other matters in the media market. In the past, Milchan was considering the possibility of becoming involved in one of the Channel 2 franchisees.
Nevertheless, the fate of the cases cannot be determined from these developments.
One of the sensitive issues still on the table is the question of whether to ask former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro to give statements regarding Milchan.
As Raviv Drucker first reported on Channel 10 News, Netanyahu allegedly acted to arrange a 10-year U.S. visa for Milchan with these two senior officials, after the American authorities restricted Milchan from obtaining one.
A few months ago, Haaretz reported that the police had asked to question both Kerry and Shapiro, but Mendelblit opposed the request. Mendelblit considered this a very sensitive political issue, and that efforts should be made to get potential evidence regarding the visa without the need to question them – for example, by receiving documents from the Americans. Such documents were indeed obtained.
A new request has recently been made to Mendelblit to question the two U.S. officials, and it is believed he approved the request with regard to one of them.
A statement issued on behalf of Netanyahu said: “The claims are baseless and their whole purpose is to exert unacceptable pressure on law enforcement authorities to damage Prime Minister Netanyahu. The prime minister has always acted out of national considerations. Moreover, it is well known that there has been no stronger opponent than Prime Minister Netanyahu of the Israel Hayom bill, and indeed, the bill did not pass. We repeat: There will be nothing because there was nothing.”