Claim that judge was bribed deepens Netanyahu crisis
21 February, 2018, 08:05 | Author: Lora Ball
Premier Benyamin Netanyahu is at the center of a political storm after the arrest of some of his associates, including his former councilor for relations with the media, Nir Hefetz, and Shaul Elovitch, a businessman who controls telecommunications giant Bezeq and popular online daily "Walla", as part of a corruption probe.
A major new spin-off development from the newly revealed Attorney-General Job Affair came out a few hours later on Tuesday afternoon, when it was reported that the police would question Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on Tuesday night. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert added in her February 13 press briefing that the US considered Netanyahu's corruption cases "an internal Israeli matter".
Police suspect that Bezeq's controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch was granted business concessions in return for Netanyahu receiving positive coverage on Elovitch's news website Walla.
"There is a tremendous effort here to preserve the left's monopoly in the media, " Netanyahu said in a statement posted on Facebook. "He was never asked to make such an offer, and we can not believe Hefetz even considered such a thing", the statement read. But as suspicions grow, "it becomes more hard politically to support Netanyahu", says CNN.
With an initial gag order lifted, police identified the pair as Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu spokesman, and Shlomo Filber, the former director of the communications ministry under Netanyahu.
"If you meet with Justice Gerstel in a closed room and ask her to close the investigation against Sara Netanyahu in exchange for her appointment as attorney general, what would her response be?"
Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid Party, said that if Netanyahu doesn't want to resign, he should at least declare himself "incapacitated", allowing a caretaker prime minister to be appointed.
Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect in the Bezeq affair, but a spokesman for his family responded to media reports on the investigation, calling them "yet another empty probe" that would yield nothing.
The Trump White House, where ongoing criminal investigations directed at the nation's top elected official are all too familiar, has largely dismissed the recommendation by Israel's national police to indict Netanyahu for bribery.
The new probe comes days after police announced there was sufficient evidence to indict Mr Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, totaling NIS 1 million ($282,000).
"He will try to emphasize to the Israeli public his value as someone who they have to thank for the strong economy and for Israel's standing in the world", said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In return, police say Netanyahu had operated on Milchan's behalf on USA visa matters, legislated a tax break and connected him with an Indian businessman.
Netanyahu is also suspected of seeking favourable media coverage from a publisher in exchange for weakening competing newspaper, a separate charge from Tuesday's allegations regarding Bezeq.
Netanyahu has long accused the Israeli press corps of being biased against him and has taken steps to counter it by promoting more sympathetic outlets to him.
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