Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to disclose his friendship with a prominent figure in the telecommunications industry (Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch - G.P.) despite the fact that he was involved in several matters affecting Bezeq, a State Comptroller's report released yesterday states.
Netanyahu also served as minister of communications from November 2014 until February 2017. The report examines the actions of the Ministry of Communications in regulating the fixed-line telecommunications market between July 2016 and March 2017, and the conflict of interests arrangement drawn up for the prime minister in June 2016 concerning his role as minister of communications.
Immediately on becoming minister of communications, Netanyahu approved the merger between Bezeq and satellite broadcasting company Yes, also controlled by Elovitch. That merger, as well as other transactions involving companies controlled by Elovitch, is currently the subject of an Israel Securities Authority investigation. Netanyahu granted the approval through the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting. Elovitch could not have carried out the Bezeq-Yes merger without Netanyahu's prior agreement.
The probe into Netanyahu's conflict of interests began in the wake of an article in "Haaretz" in October 2015 dealing with the ties between the prime minister and the Walla! website (a subsidiary of Bezeq) that pointed to his social connection with Bezeq chairman Elovitch. In June 2016, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit drew up a conflict of interests arrangement in which it was stated that in order to prevent claims of a conflict of interests and for the sake of public appearances,, Netanyahu had informed the Attorney General that he would be prepared to refrain from dealing with matters pertaining to Elovitch and the companies under his control, including regulation fixed line telephony infrastructure and services. It was also determined that the powers of the minister of communications in these areas would be transferred to another minister (in July 2016 they were transferred to Tzachi Hanegbi). The comptroller examined aspects of the consequences of the conflict of interests arrangement, and even met Elovitch on the matter.
According to the comptroller, in April 2016, after the Attorney General had begun examining Netanyahu's relationship with Elovitch, the Ministry of Communications director-general's office drew up a list of matters that Netanyahu had dealt with since becoming minister of communications that directly or indirectly related to Bezeq. This list was not handed to the Ministry of Justice at the time that it formulated the conflict of interests arrangement.
In an unusual step, the State Comptroller criticizes Mandelblit over the fact that his inquiry did not cover previous decisions that Netanyahu had made on the matters in question, when it was clear to him, and clear from the conflict of interests arrangement that he himself drafted, that Netanyahu had been in a blatant conflict of interests.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on July 13, 2017
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