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Media tycoon Arnon Mozes is the businessman who negotiated a quid pro quo with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in conversations caught on tape that came to light on Sunday.
Haaretz reported Sunday that suspicions in the main corruption affair involving Netanyahu are backed by recordings documenting contacts between him and a businessman over mutual benefits.
According to Channel 2, several months ago Netanyahu offered Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, a deal that would limit the circulation of the free daily Israel Hayom, Yedioth's top competitor and widely regarded as the prime minister's mouthpiece. In return, Mozes would make Yedioth's coverage more sympathetic to Netanyahu.
Israel Hayom, now Israel's largest newspaper, is owned and published by U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a close confidant of the prime minister.
Mozes was questioned in the case last week and released under certain conditions.
Channel 10 reported that the negotiations were an effort by Netanyahu to prevent Yedioth Ahronoth from publishing a story about his son Yair. Channel 2 reported that the conversations were recorded by the prime minister's bureau chief at the time, Ari Harow, at Netanyahu's request.
The taped conversations were brought to the attention of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit months ago. Mendelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan believed that while the affair had far-reaching ramifications politically, its legal status was unclear, Channel 2 reported.
In August, Netanyahu said he was considering promoting a bill that would bar recordings of conversations without consent from all the parties involved.
Not the first attempted deal
TheMarker reported in November that a few months before returning to power in 2009, Netanyahu spoke with Mozes and reached a secret deal. The two had been in a power struggle since 1996, when Netanyahu first became prime minister.
"He promised me that Israel Hayom wouldn’t publish a weekend edition," confidants quoted Mozes as saying.
Mozes believed that the deal would save Yedioth, which badly suffered when Israel Hayom launched in 2007. In 2009, Netanyahu was gearing up for the election that would return him to power and tried to thwart attacks from Yedioth, then Israel's biggest newspaper.
A few months later, however, the battle resumed in full force. At the end of 2009, Israel Hayom began publishing a weekend edition whose circulation reached the hundreds of thousands.
Yedioth retaliated with investigations and attacks on Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak; it also backed a bill that would have prevented the publication of a free newspaper.