Police to Question Netanyahu Friday in Two Corruption Cases

Detectives want to interview Netanyahu before he flies to the U.S. on Saturday ■ PM to be asked about telecom-giant and submarine affairs

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Jerusalem, February 21, 2018
Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be questioned by the police Friday as part of their ongoing probe into two separate corruption cases, one involving suspected corruption in Israel's purchase of submarines from Germany and another connected to suspicions of corruption involving Israel's largest telecommunications company, Bezeq, and the Communications Ministry.

Netanyahu will be interrogated in the Bezeq case and is also expected to provide evidence in the submarine purchase investigation before his trip Saturday to the United States, where he will speak at the AIPAC Policy Conference and meet with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Th submarine case (which the police call Case 3000) involves allegations of bribes exceeding $1 billion in connection with a German contract to supply boats and submarines to Israel. The Bezeq case involves allegations that an Israeli news website owned by Bezeq, Walla, gave favorable coverage to the prime minister in exchange for benefits to the Israeli telecom giant.

This case, known as Case 4000, involves suspicions that while serving as communications minister from 2014 to 2017 (while he was also prime minister), Netanyahu intervened with regulators to help the Bezeq group, which is controlled by Shaul Elovitch. In exchange, Elovitch, a longtime friend of Netanyahu’s, allegedly ordered Bezeq’s Walla news site to provide favorable coverage of the prime minister and his wife, Sara Netanyahu.

The CEO of the news website told police that Elovitch approved “to write against the right-wing, Likud lawmakers and [Avigdor] Lieberman, only not against Bibi [Netanyahu], Sara and the son [Yair],” according to a report by the Israel Television News Company Friday.

In Friday’s report, Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua testified that Elovitch also ordered Walla employees to attack Education Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Habayit Hayehudi party.

“Elovitch says he wants to make Walla into a religious Zionist website. That’s a lie. There were orders to attack Naftali Bennett. To attack him hard,” Yeshua stated. Yeshua also described the Elovitches as a “crime family.”

Yeshua testified that in 2017 Elovitch tried to get the company’s board to remove Yeshua as the website’s CEO. According to Yeshua, this occurred after he decided to hire freelance journalists to work on the site.

Channel 10 News also reported that Sara Netanyahu sent a message to Elovitch’s wife, Iris, urging her to fire a Walla editor who published an unflattering article about her.

According to Channel 10 News, Sara wrote, “It can’t go on like this. I thought we’ve talked about this. This has been going on for too long. Why should I be reading things like this on your website? Do something about it.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s coalition partners seemed reluctant to send Israel to early elections by dissolving the government. On Twitter, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon seemed to hint he had no intention of leaving the coalition, tweeting a link of a news report about declining housing costs and writing: “Now is the time to continue with our hard work.”

The opposition was more vocal in its criticism, with Zionist Union chief Avi Gabbay saying, “We are at the end of Netanyahu’s days. It will take a few more months, maybe a year, but he won’t be with us. We can be optimistic.”

Netanyahu’s Likud will still be the biggest party in Israel if elections were held now, a poll published Saturday said. According to the data published by the Israeli version of “Meet the Press,” Likud would win 28 Knesset seats, down from 30, while the centrist Yesh Atid would win 24, more than double the 12 it currently has and even more than the 19 it won during its first run in politics two elections ago.

According to the poll, Zionist Union would finish third with 15 Knesset seats, followed by Joint List with 12. The right-wing Habayit Hayehudi and centrist Kulanu would each win nine seats, while Yisrael Beiteinu and United Torah Judaism would each have seven MKs. The left-wing Meretz party would retain its six seats, while Shas would drop one seat to five.

The results are similar to a poll conducted by Channel 10 and published last Wednesday.

The submarine affair involves suspected corruption in Israel’s purchase of submarines and boats from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. Several confidants of Netanyahu are suspected of bribing Israeli defense officials to get them to buy submarines from the Germans.

One of the suspects, Michael Ganor, has turned state’s evidence in exchange for a year in prison and a $2.8 million fine. Ganor has reportedly testified that attorney David Shimron promised to use his close ties to Netanyahu – as his cousin and personal lawyer – to advance the submarine deal. Ganor, ThyssenKrupp’s representative in Israel, has also used Shimron as his attorney.

On Sunday, police were planning to request an extension of the detention of communications consultant Eli Kamir for his alleged role in the Bezeq case. Kamir was detained last week in connection with another case involving an alleged attempt to bribe a retired judge, Hila Gerstl.

Police suspect that Kamir served as a go-between on behalf of communications consultant Nir Hefetz and that Kamir offered Gerstl the appointment as Israel's attorney general in exchange for closing an investigation against Sara Netanyahu over suspected financial irregularities at the prime minister's residences. Hefetz is a longtime confidant and communications adviser to the Netanyahu family.

On Sunday morning police said they would not seek such an extension of Kamir's detention but later announced that he had been interrogated since Sunday morning in the Bezeq case. Kamir was a strategic adviser for Bezeq and served as an intermediary between Bezeq executives, including CEO Stella Handler, and Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber. Last week, Filber signed an agreement to turn state's evidence in the case.

Other suspects in the Bezeq case, including Nir Hefetz, controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch, his wife Iris and son Or, as well as Handler and her deputy, Amikam Shorer, have all had their detention orders extended until Monday.