Police Have Tape of Telecom Mogul Pushing for Positive Netanyahu News Coverage

Walla news site CEO Ilan Yeshua recorded Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch pressing him to tilt the site’s coverage in favor of the prime minister and his family, report says

Benjamin Netanyahu, Shaul Elovitch, and Ilan Yeshua.
Emil Salman, Moti Milrod, Eyal Toueg

The police reportedly have a tape of Israeli telecom mogul Shaul Elovitch pushing for positive coverage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his company’s news site, the latest thorn in the prime minister’s side as he tries to deflect claims that he offered a quid pro quo for positive news coverage.       

Ilan Yeshua, the CEO of the Walla news website has given the police recordings in which Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Walla’s parent company Bezeq, applied pressure on Yeshua to slant the site’s coverage on behalf of Netanyahu and his family, reported the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Thursday.

The recordings provided by Yeshua could aid the police in one of their two investigations into whether Netanyahu offered a quid pro quo for positive media coverage by a major Israeli news organization.             

Netanyahu, who also served as communications minister from 2014 to 2017, is suspected of giving huge benefits to Bezeq via Shlomo Filber, who took over as director general of the Communications Ministry in June 2015. In return, Elovitch, is suspected of having the site publish favorable coverage of Netanyau and his wife Sara.

Filber, who has turned state’s evidence in the case, began testifying to the police on Wednesday. According to the Israel Television News Company, formerly known as Channel 2 News, Filber said he was expressly instructed by Netanyahu to aid Bezeq.

Yeshua has already provided testimony this week. According to Channel 10 News, Yeshua told investigators that in November 2016 the Netanyahus insisted that he fire the site’s chief editor, Aviram Elad, after a Walla article  angered them. The item dealt with alleged improprieties in Israel’s purchase of submarines and other naval vessels from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems.

According to the article, the attorney general had been asked to open a criminal probe against Netanyahu’s cousin and personal lawyer David Shimron  — a key figure in the submarine case, one of five cases now plaguing Netanyahu.

According to Channel 10, Yeshua also told the police that Sara Netanyahu sought material that could lead to the firing of Elad, who had recently taken over as editor. Yeshua reportedly told the police that Netanyahu showed Elovitch a column Elad had written expressing support for the big powers’ nuclear deal with Iran, with the aim of getting Elad fired. According to Channel 10, Yeshua said he refused the Netanyahus’ request.

On Thursday, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court extended the detention of Elovitch and his wife Iris for five additional days. Judge Ala Masarwa also extend the detention of Nir Hefetz, a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family, for three more days.

The police told the court that Hefetz is invoked his right to remain silent and is not cooperating with the police investigation, but his lawyer denied he is not cooperating, saying he has allowed police to search his computers and mobile phones  and "he has nothing to hide."

On Wednesday, Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz extended the detention of Bezeq CEO Stella Handler and Bezeq executive Amikam Shorer by six days, acceding to the authorities’ request. “This is clearly a case that raises a reasonable suspicion or more of serious corruption,” Poznanski-Katz said.