JERUSALEM: Israeli police were questioning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday as part of an investigation into a corruption case involving the country’s telecom giant, one of a slew of scandals that have engulfed the long-ruling Israeli leader.
Two Netanyahu confidants were arrested on suspicion of promoting regulation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel’s Bezeq telecom company in return for Bezeq’s popular news site, Walla, allegedly providing favorable coverage of Netanyahu and his family.
It’s the second time that Netanyahu, who held the communications portfolio until last year, is being questioned over the affair. Police declined to comment directly, but in a statement said different interrogations were underway in connection to the case.
Police were seen arriving to Netanyahu’s residence Monday morning. Israeli Channel 2 TV reported that Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, and son Yair are also being questioned, at another location.
Israel’s Yediot Aharonot daily reported that police will question Netanyahu over allegations made by longtime family spokesman Nir Hefetz, one of the confidants arrested and later released. Hefetz has turned state’s witness reportedly in exchange for full immunity. The Haaretz newspaper said he will deliver recordings of the prime minister and his wife as part of the agreement. The second confidant, Shlomo Filber, has also turned state’s witness in the case.
Israeli police have already recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases.
Netanyahu is suspected of accepting lavish gifts from billionaire friends, and promising to promote legislation to help a major Israeli newspaper against its free rival in exchange for favorable coverage. Longtime aide Ari Harow is a state witness in one of those cases.
Israel’s attorney general is now reviewing the police recommendations, a process that could take months, and will decide whether to indict Netanyahu on the charges.
Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the accusations as a witch hunt orchestrated by hostile media and an overaggressive police force.
The graft scandals have come as Israel’s coalition recently averted a crisis that could have led to early elections.
Israel’s opposition accused Netanyahu of manufacturing the crisis in order to force a new election. Early polls would have shifted attention away from his legal problems, and a win would have shored up his position ahead of a possible indictment. —AFP