Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the free daily Israel Hayom, has told the police that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised a matter of economic importance with him that Netanyahu had discussed with the publisher of rival daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Channel 10 reported on Friday.
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In an affair that broke early this year, Netanyahu is suspected of trying to persuade Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes to give him better coverage in exchange for a law that would restrict the distribution of the Adelson-owned free newspaper Israel Hayom, thus helping Yedioth Ahronoth.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has told the police and prosecutors that to issue an indictment, he needs evidence that clear steps were taken to make such a deal. Adelson’s statement to the police Friday could constitute such evidence.
This development could strengthen the case that Netanyahu was serious about moving ahead with the deal he allegedly made with Mozes. It would contradict the prime minister’s main line of defense: that he was joking with Mozes and never meant to keep his promise to discuss the issue with Adelson.
Last month, Adelson and his wife Miriam gave statements to the police for the second time. Two weeks ago, a person familiar with the details told Haaretz that the statements were “of significance.”
Adelson’s testimony joins two other elements that could show that the parties were serious about carrying out parts of the deal. As reported in Haaretz two weeks ago, in an early phase of the investigation, a testimony indicated that Netanyahu checked with politicians whether the law in question could be passed during an election campaign.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu allegedly complained to Mozes that the publisher was protecting Naftali Bennett, the head of the party to Netanyahu’s right, Habayit Hayehudi.
Mozes allegedly told Netanyahu at a subsequent meeting that the Bennett matter had been resolved; Mozes allegedly showed Netanyahu an article in a media outlet he owns attacking Bennett.
On Thursday night, Netanyahu told Channel 20 that Israel was “in the midst of an unprecedented media campaign aimed at tarnishing me with empty accusations and at overthrowing the government.”
Two other affairs are currently plaguing Netanyahu. Michael Ganor, an Israeli agent of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, was detained last week on corruption suspicions regarding the navy’s acquisition of submarines. Ganor and Netanyahu have used the same lawyer, David Shimron.
Meanwhile, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, Shaul Elovitch, and Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber were placed under house arrest as an Israel Securities Authority investigation cracked down on the country’s largest telecommunications company.
The probe into Bezeq now includes what is being called a secret channel for sensitive information between Elovitch and Filber, both considered close to Netanyahu.