The State of Israel versus Benjamin Netanyahu. From today, the prime minister of Israel stands accused of corruption. After investigations stretching over three years, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced today that he had decided to indict Netanyahu on counts of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.
We have already had a president, ministers, and a former prime minister indicted on criminal charges. Now another negative record has been broken. It should be pointed out that, according to the law, Netanyahu can continue to serve as prime minister unless and until he is finally convicted, and that the legal process, including an appeal to the Supreme Court should he be convicted in the lower court, could take years.
Netanyahu will be indicted for bribery in Case 4000, and in Case 1000 and 2000 he will be indicted for fraud and breach of trust.
The attorney general also announced that he had decided to indict Shaul Elovitch and Iris Elovitch for bribery in case 4000.
The central accusation in Case 4000 is that, when serving as minister of communications as well as prime minister, Netanyahu made regulatory decisions in favor of the Bezeq group, worth huge sums to the group, in return for Shaul Elovitch, at the time the controlling shareholder in Bezeq and in website Walla!, ensuring favorable and biased coverage of Netanyahu and members of his family on Walla! News. Other suspects summoned to hearings in this case are Shaul Elovitch's wife Iris, and businessman Zeev Rubinstein.
The investigation found that in the period 2012-2017, the prime minister and his associates intervened blatantly and sometimes daily in content published on the Walla! News site, and sought to influence appointments of editors and reporters on the site, using their connections with Shaul and Iris Elovitch. The constant intervention, it was found, was aimed at promoting Netanyahu's personal interests through the publication of flattering reports and pictures lacking any critical perspective on the prime minister and his family.
It was also found that Shaul and Iris Elovitch brought influence to bear on reporting on the Walla! News website, to bias it in favor of Netanyahu's regulatory decisions benefitting Shaul Elovitch and the Bezeq group, out of a desire to continue promoting the business interests of the Bezeq group and its controlling shareholder.
Case 2000 is perhaps the most complex of the three cases from a legal point of view. According to the investigation findings, as reported by Israel Police in its summary of the investigation in February 2018, from 2009 for a period of years, Netanyahu and Arnon (Noni) Mozes, publisher of popular Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot, held meetings in which they discussed assisting each other in promoting their respective interests.
In this context, there was talk of Mozes assisting Netanyahu in bolstering his standing through positive and favorable coverage in Yediot Aharonot, in exchange for Netanyahu promoting the newspaper's economic interests by initiating and supporting moves to curb the growing strength of free daily Israel Hayom.
The suspicions that arise from the recordings made of several of the conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes is that the two men discussed several courses of action: support by the prime minister for the "Israel Hayom bill" whereby Israel Hayom would have been forced to make a cover charge, and discontinuance of Israel Hayom's weekend supplement, in addition to Netanyahu's efforts to mediate between Mozes and wealthy investors who might buy Yediot Aharonot.
One of the difficulties in this case as far as the attorney general is concerned is that the allegedly corrupt deal between Netanyahu and Mozes never materialized, or only partially materialized. In addition, Netanyahu and Mozes have each claimed that he deliberately misled the other in these meetings.
In Case 1000, the suspicion was investigated that businessman Arnon Milchan provided, frequently and over a period of years, valuable alcoholic drinks and cigars to the prime minister worth thousands of shekels each time. The suspicion was also investigated that Milchan bought valuable jewelry for the prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu. Altogether, according to the police, the gifts were to a value of some NIS 750,000 in the period 2006-2017. The police recommended indicting Netanyahu and Milchan on charges of taking and giving bribes. It was also claimed that Australian businessman James Packer made gifts worth NIS 250,000 to Netanyahu over the same period.
According to the police, Netanyahu acted on Milchan's behalf in several matters relating to the communications market, helping him to promote investment in Channel 2, and tried to assist him in promoting a commercial venture with Indian company Tata.
Legal proceedings against Benjamin Netanyahu, Shaul Elovitch, Iris Elovitch, Arnon Mozes and Zeev Rubinstein are still in progress. They deny the charges against them, and are entitled to the presumption of innocence.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 21, 2019
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