Police: Charge Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu With Bribery in Telecom Case

Police conclude investigation into third graft case involving the prime minister, recommend also indicting media mogul, wife

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, May 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The police and Israel Securities Authority on Sunday recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau and his wife, Sara, as well as media mogul Shaul Elovitch and his wife, Iris, for bribery and other corruption charges in the investigation dubbed Case 4000.

This is the third case in which the police have recommended charging the prime minister with bribery. The statement recommending charges against Netanyahu in the case were published on the last day in office for Commissioner Roni Alsheich, who is stepping down after a three-year term.

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In a statement, police said that Netanyahu is suspected of taking bribes and of conduct involving a conflict of interest when he made decisions that benefited Elovitch, who controlled Israel's largest telecommunications firm, Bezeq, and the Walla News website, one of two leading news sites in the country.

Case 4000 involves suspicions that Netanyahu, in his role as communications minister from 2014 to 2017 (while he was also prime minister), intervened with regulators to help Bezeq with a deal worth to Elovitch some 1 billion shekels (. In exchange, Elovitch, a long-time friend of Netanyahu’s, allegedly ordered Walla to provide favorable coverage of the prime minister and his wife, Sara. 

The alleged quid pro quo between the Netanyahus and Elovitches was first revealed by Haaretz's Gidi Weitz in November 2015, in an expose titled "The Israeli News Site in Netanyahu's Pocket."

Police said they found evidence that "Netanyahu and those close to him blatantly intervened, sometimes on a daily basis, in content published on the Walla news website, and sought to influence the appointment of senior employees (editors and reporters), while using their ties to Shaul and Iris Elovitch."

Police recommendations in Case 4000

The police are recommending that the prime minister be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust as well as aggravated fraudulent receiving of an item. The recommended charges against Sara Netanyahu are bribery, fraud, breach of trust and obstruction of justice.

The police announcement also links a new figure to the case – Zeev Rubinstein, a businessman with close ties to the Netanyahu and Elovitch families, who is a vice president of the Israel Bonds Organization. He is suspected of serving as an intermediary in the alleged bribery.

In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a statement saying that the recommendations to indict him and his wife "don't surprise anyone, nor does the transparent timing of the announcement."

"These recommendations were decided on and leaked even before the investigations began. The police recommendations have no legal standing. Only recently, authorized officials totally rejected police recommendations regarding a number of public figures. I am certain that the authorized officials, after considering the matters, will reach the same conclusion in this case as well -- that there was nothing because there is nothing."

The police had already recommended charging Prime Minister Netanyahu with bribery and breach of trust in two other cases: Case 1000, in which  he is suspected of receiving champagne, cigars and other gifts from billionaire friends, and Case 2000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of negotiating favorable press coverage with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher, Arnon Mozes. 

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has said that he will reach a decision on whether to charge Netanyahu in all three cases together.

The investigation in Case 4000 against Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister's son, who was also a suspect in the affair, was closed. The findings in Case 4000 have been transferred to the State Prosecutor's Office.

In response to Sunday's police recommendation, Shaul Elovitch's lawyer, Jacques Chen said: "For an extended period, the police, through their leaks, have been preparing us for this recommendation." The recommendations are a rehash that present nothing new, said Chen, who expressed the hope that those handling the case will look at it from a "legal and professional" perspective divorced from "the huge pressure being exerted on them and that has accompanied this investigation from the beginning and has tainted it. Mr. Elovitch insists that he has not committed any offense."

Iris Elovitch's lawyer, Michal Rosen-Ozer, said the police recommendation are "part of the bias in the investigation and arrest of Mrs. Elovitch from the beginning." She added: "We hope that the members of the prosecution are able to free themselves of this bias and consider the evidence. We have no doubt that such an evaluation would show that Mrs. Elovitch has not committed any offense."