Israeli PM questioned over corruption case

Mr Benjamin Netanyahu has been caught up in a graft case involving the largest telecoms firm in Israel.
Mr Benjamin Netanyahu has been caught up in a graft case involving the largest telecoms firm in Israel.

JERUSALEM • Israeli police questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday for the first time in a corruption case involving the country's largest telecommunications firm, said Israel Radio.

Along with two other corruption cases, in which Mr Netanyahu is suspected of bribery, the probes announced last month pose a serious threat to the four-term Prime Minister's political survival.

Mr Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in all the cases.

In the newest investigation, known as Case 4000, police allege that the owners of Bezeq Israel Telecom provided favourable coverage of Mr Netanyahu and his wife on a news website they controlled in return for favours from communications regulators.

The firm has denied wrongdoing.

A police spokesman declined to comment on the report that Mr Netanyahu was questioned. A Reuters cameraman saw a vehicle carrying two police officers pull into the Prime Minister's official residence yesterday morning.

Mr Netanyahu's wife Sara was also questioned at the same time as her husband, at a police station near Tel Aviv, her lawyer said. Her interview took place under caution that she might be named as a suspect, said the lawyer.

The Israeli media said Bezeq Israel Telecom controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch and former Netanyahu spokesman Nir Hefetz were also being questioned. They are both in custody and have denied wrongdoing.

A representative for Mr Elovitch had no immediate comment and Mr Hefetz's lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr Shlomo Filber, a confidant of Mr Netanyahu's and former director-general of the Communications Ministry, has also been arrested in connection with the case. The Israeli media has reported that he has agreed to become a government witness.

About 70 protesters gathered outside Mr Netanyahu's residence yesterday, demanding that he step down.

The right-wing Prime Minister has been Israel's dominant political figure for a generation, in power since 2009 and for 12 years in total since 1996. He calls the allegations against him a "witch hunt" and has said he will seek a fifth term in an election due late next year.

Police recommended last month that Mr Netanyahu be indicted in two other corruption investigations. The Attorney-General must determine whether to accept the police recommendation to charge him. The final decision on both cases could take months.

So far, partners in Mr Netanyahu's governing coalition have stood by him, saying that they are awaiting the next moves by the Attorney-General.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2018, with the headline 'Israeli PM questioned over corruption case'. Print Edition | Subscribe