Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held seven meetings with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, Israel's biggest telecommunications company, between 2013 and 2015, according to a report revealed in a freedom-of-information request.
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The relationship between the prime minister and Elovitch has been the cause of considerable concern due to potential for conflicts of interest. Some of these meetings fit into the time period during which Netanyahu involved himself in media and telecommunications policy and even served as communications minister.
Meanwhile, Elovitch was investigated by the Israel Securities Authority last year, and officials are recommending that he and other Bezeq group executives be indicted for security violations. In addition, the ISA recommended that Shlomo Filber, a Netanyahu associate who was Communications Ministry director general while Netanyahu was also serving as minister, be indicted as well.
The records, obtained by attorney Shahar Men-Meir, show that all seven of the meetings occurred at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem. Two of them were dinners with spouses, which is in line with Netanyahu's assertion that he had been friends with Elovitch for a long time.
Four of the meetings occurred when Gilad Erdan was communications minister, and undertook reforms of the telecommunications market. Most of those reforms would have hurt Bezeq, which is by far the dominant telecommunications operator in Israel.
At the same time Bezeq was seeking permission to buy out 51% of its Yes satellite telecommunications unit held by Elovitch and to remove barriers that kept different operating units of the company legally separate.
Moreover, the four meetings occurred at a time when Walla, Bezeq's news site, was giving the prime minister and his wife, Sara, consistently favorable coverage. As revealed by TheMarker and Haaretz in a 2015 expose, Walla management often pulled down stories that were unfavorable to the couple.
The first of the four meetings between Netanyahu and Elovitch occurred on July 8 and December 20, 2013 and on February 2 and March 24, 2014. Two days after that final meeting, which occurred late at night, the Antitrust Authority approved the Bezeq-Yes deal – which last year became the focus of the ISA investigation.
After Erdan stepped down at the end of 2014, Netanyahu met with Elovitch three more times – on November 28, 2014, January 16, 2015 and again four days later. The latter two meetings occurred during the general election.
Even when he was serving as communications minister, Netanyahu failed to report his meetings with Elovitch as required by law. Only after the Haaretz expose – and at the behest of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit – did the prime minister reveal he had met with Elovitch.
In July 2016, Netanyahu ceded his authority as communications minister on Bezeq-related issues to Minister Without Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi and finally gave up the communications portfolio altogether last year.
During the debate over revealing the meetings, Netanyahu's attorney David Shomron maintained that the telecoms tycoon and his wife had been personal friends of the Netanyahus for 20 years, which exempted Netanyahu from having to disclose the information.
Even after acknowledging the meetings, Netanyahu had resisted handing over the times. But after a court ordered him to hand over similar information on meetings with billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a Netanyahu ally who owns the Israel Hayom newspaper, the prime minister had no choice but to disclose the Elovitch meetings as well.
The Prime Minister's office hadn't responded to the report by press time.