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“Case 4000 never happened,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday after five hours of questioning in what is known as the “Bezeq Affair.”
In Case 4000 the prime minister is alleged to have ordered top aide Shlomo Filber – who he appointed as director-general of the Communications Ministry – to issue favorable rulings for Bezeq. That reportedly included getting anti-trust regulators to approve Bezeq’s merger with satellite TV unit Yes.
Bezeq’s news site – Walla! – has been accused of exchanging that favor for giving positive coverage to Netanyahu and his wife, with the prime minister’s aide Nir Hefetz managing the contact. Hefetz has become a state witness and is testifying against his former boss.
Shaul Elovitch, the owner of Walla! and controlling shareholder and former chairman of Bezeq, is said to have coordinated the coverage.
During Tuesday’s questioning at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, investigators were expected to present Netanyahu with new evidence provided by state witness Nir Hefetz, a former spokesman for the Netanyahu family.
A statement released on behalf of Netanyahu said that “nothing new was presented to the prime minister today.”
“Prime Minister Netanyahu has never made a deal with Elovitch in exchange for sympathetic coverage. On the contrary, over the years Prime Minister Netanyahu has consistently been reported on a hostile manner by the Walla website. This negative coverage culminated in a flood of virulent articles on the eve of the 2015 elections, in an attempt to persuade the public to vote against him. This is exactly the period of time when he is accused of having allegedly made the Bezeq-Yes deal,” the statement said.
“The claim of a special relationship with Elovitch in the Bezeq-Yes deal is also baseless. The prime minister signed the merger after a series of decisions by professional committees, including the Antitrust Authority and the Cable and Satellite Council, and after an explicit directive by the Ministry of Communications’ legal advisor,” the statement continued.
Police also released a statement confirming that the prime minister had been questioned for several hours at his residence as part of the investigation carried out by the Lahav 433 unit. “The investigation is being carried out with the assistance of the State Attorney and with the approval of the Attorney General. There are no further details available,” the police said in a statement.
Channel 2 News reported in May that Hefetz testified to the police that he “spoke to Elovitch six to seven times a day” when he served as Netanyahu’s adviser. He also provided evidence that both Netanyahu and Elovitch were aware of an illicit quid pro quo deal between them.
Moreover, Hefetz related that during a visit to Manhattan by the Netanyahu family, wealthy Jews gave Sara Netanyahu credit cards with which to buy herself gifts.
The Prime Minister’s Office at the time responded that: “These are total lies regarding the Netanyahu-Elovitch relationship. Also the false and malicious claim that the prime minister and his wife used friends’ credit cards is false. This never happened.”
Hefetz also provided new material in Case 1000 and Case 2000.
The Kan public broadcaster reported Monday night that police are also expected to question under caution billionaire Arnon Milchan in connection with Case 2000.
Milchan is a central figure in Case 1000, which relates to gifts given by Milchan and James Packer to the Netanyahus, including expensive cigars, champagne and other gifts worth a total of some NIS 1 million over several years.
New information, however, suggests he may also be linked to Case 2000, which probes an alleged arrangement between Netanyahu and Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken his competitor Israel Hayom in exchange for better coverage of him in Mozes’s paper.
The new findings indicate that Milchan may have mediated the alleged deal between Netanyahu and Mozes, according to Kan.
Last month Netanyahu was expected to be questioned in Case 4000, but police surprised him by questioning him, for the first time, in Case 3000, the “Submarines Affair” instead.
Max Schindler contributed to this report.