Police Suspect Yair Netanyahu Received Benefits, Obstructed Justice in Telecom Bribery Case

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as his wife Sara and son Yair were questioned by police on Monday in connection to the Bezeq bribery case

file photo taken on March 18, 2015 shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and his son Yair visiting the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
THOMAS COEX / AFP

Israeli police suspect that Yair Netanyahu, the son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, received benefits and obstructed justice in the so-called Bezeq telecom bribery affair. All three members of the Netanyahu family were questioned by the police in connection to the case on Monday.

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The investigation, dubbed Case 4000, revolves around suspicions that Netanyahu conferred regulatory benefits on the telecom giant Bezeq in exchange for favorable coverage of the Netanyahu family on the popular Walla news website, owned by Bezeq’s owner.

The police suspect that Yair Netanyahu took part in relaying demands to the website to skew coverage in his parents' favor.

The police also suspect that both Yair and his mother Sara were aware of the other side of the alleged deal – that Bezeq received regulatory benefits in return for the positive coverage on Walla.

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Police interrogated the prime minister and his wife as suspects in the Bezeq case on Monday. They were confronted, for the first time, with statements from Nir Hefetz, a former confidant of the couple who signed a state’s evidence agreement with the prosecution.

The two were questioned simultaneously: Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem and Sara at the headquarters of the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 special crimes unit.

Yair was questioned for the first time in the case regarding the information provided by Hefetz.

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Two other suspects in the case, Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris, were also questioned by police on Monday. Shaul Elovitch is the controlling shareholder of Bezeq. A former official of Netanyahu's bureau was also questioned under caution, or as a criminal suspect.

The police planned to confront the Netanyahus with Hefetz’s statements and supporting evidence, which include recordings and text messages. This testimony relates to both sides of the alleged quid-pro-quo. Hefetz described the orders he received to benefit Bezeq and the meetings at which he relayed these orders to then-Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber. He also described his role as the Netanyahus’ liaison to the Elovitches regarding Walla.

Filber, who also turned state’s evidence, has said that Hefetz was Netanyahu’s envoy for messages relating to Bezeq. He and Hefetz both said they met numerous times.

Hefetz said both Netanyahus were aware of the quid-pro-quo, even if they never said so explicitly. The prosecution estimates the values of the benefits Bezeq received at about one billion shekels ($290 million).

The police were expected to ask about a meeting between Hefetz and Elovitch at which they allegedly discussed ways to obstruct the investigations. Detectives want to know whose idea this was. They were also expected to ask the Netanyahus whether they sent Hefetz to meet with the Elovitches in December 2016, after media reports about an undercover investigation against the prime minister. They suspect that he asked them to erase all evidence of their conversations with the Netanyahus from their cellphones. (That probe became a different investigation, involving alleged bribery between Netanyahu and newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes.)

Following that meeting, Shaul Elovitch met with Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua and asked him to erase all evidence of the Netanyahus’ requests as well. Yeshua deliberately saved this evidence instead. The police allege that the Netanyahus sometimes contacted Walla’s management several times a day.