Case 4,000 includes most serious count against PM: Bribery 

Source: Case 4,000 includes most serious count against PM: Bribery – Israel Hayom

According to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, the several instances in which PM Netanyahu is suspected of trading his authority as prime minister and communications minister for favorable coverage on news site Walla comprise accepting bribes.

Itsik Saban // published on 01/03/2019
   
A screenshot of a 2015 video in which Prime Minister Netanyahu warns voters that Arabs are flooding to the polls “in droves.” He reportedly asked the Walla site to keep the video on its homepage for hours on election day 


The most serious charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could face in the three cases of alleged corruption in which Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has decided to indict him pending a hearing is bribery for Case 4,000.

Case 4,000 centers around the Bezeq telecommunications corporation and the Walla news website, which Bezeq owns. Netanyahu, who held the communications portfolio until February 2017, is suspected of having offered Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch corporate benefits worth hundreds of millions of shekels in exchange for favorable coverage of him and his family on Walla.

According to Mendelblit, from December 2012 until January 2017, Netanyahu and Elovitch had a “give and take” agreement that included Elovitch offering Netanyahu favors by acquiescing to the latter’s request for flattering coverage on Walla. In addition, Netanyahu is suspected of having used his authority as communications minister to provide benefit Elovitch’s business interests.

Elovitch and his wife, Iris, are suspected of offering Netanyahu bribes in the form of positive coverage on Walla and of interfering with the investigation and failure to cooperate with investigators when questioned.

In the opinion of the attorney general, slanting coverage of Netanyahu and his family on Walla comprised “a significant illicit favor for Netanyahu, given the important he saw in improving the media coverage about him and given the wide reach of what is published on the Walla website, which allowed Netanyahu to spread his messages.”

According to Mendelblit’s decision to indict pending a hearing, Netanyahu took the unusual step of asking the Elovitches for positive coverage, knowing that if they complied, it would be in exchange for him taking steps in an official capacity and he would be asked or could be asked to promote Elovitch’s various interests, which is what transpired.

According to the evidence collected in the investigation, Elovitch provided Netanyahu with favors, with the expectation and understanding that Netanyahu would use his power, status, and authority to promote matters that would benefit Elovitch’s business interests.

Netanyahu’s request for favorable coverage on Walla reportedly included the publication of messages the prime minister wanted to put out. One example the attorney general presented was a request by Netanyahu that Walla run a video clip in a prominent place on the site on the day of the 2015 Knesset election, in which he warned that Arabs were flooding to the polls “in droves.” Netanyahu reportedly asked that the video stay on Walla’s homepage for several hours.

As prime minister and communications minister, Netanyahu had the authority to grant permits for certain business activities carried out by the Bezeq group. In light of the field in which the Bezeq group operates and given the corporation’s special status in the country’s communications market, the Bezeq group was subject to regulation determined by the Communications Ministry.

For Mendelblit, what brought the hammer down in Case 4,000 was Shaul and Iris Elovitch’s compliance with Netanyahu’s requests by applying heavy pressure on Walla director Ilan Yeshua, who then pressured the site editors and reports to cooperate, although they wanted to operate based on the accepted norms of journalism. However, starting in January 2017, when Netanyahu and his associates began to worry about a possible investigation, as did the Elovitches, the contact between the two couples dropped considerably. The Elovitches even allegedly asked Yeshua to interfere with the investigation.

Mendelblit said that in exchange for their alleged interference at Walla, Netanyahu took steps to provide Elovitch with regulatory benefits that included removing former Communications Minister Gilad Erdan from his position after Elovitch complained about how Erdan was treating the Bezeq group and approved steps that Bezeq needed to take to complete to issue bonds for Bicom Systems group, which Elovitch controls.

Netanyahu is also suspected of approving a merger between Bezeq and the Yes satellite TV company that would have been of major financial importance to Elovitch, as it would have allowed it to pay off the enormous debt his Eurocom group owed to various banks.

Mendelblit’s report also touches on a meeting Netanyahu reportedly held with Elovitch at the latter’s request, so Elovitch could present Netanyahu with a timeline for the merger and ask him to fast-track the approval.

According to Mendelblit, after the meeting, Netanyahu instructed attorney Eitan Tzafrir, whom he had appointed chief of staff to the communications minister, to work to promote the Bezeq-Yes deal and force Communications Ministry officials, including Director General Avi Berger, to comply with his instructions.

Later, Mendelblit’s report claims, Netanyahu fired Berger for opposing Elovitch’s requests and replaced him with Shlomo Filber, an associate with no background in the communications field, and told Filber to promote the Bezeq-Yes merger and moderate a price reduction in the retail communications market to benefit Elovitch. Mendelblit reports that Netanyahu took these steps over the objection of professionals in the field.

In response to the allegations laid out by Mendelblit, the legal team representing Shaul and Iris Elovitch said: “We have received a summons to a hearing. We will study it and all the material from the investigation, and consider our next steps. We are convinced that Shaul and Iris Elovitch have done nothing wrong.”

 

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