Netanyahu Confidants Named as Suspects in New Corruption Probe

Former prime minister's spokesman Nir Hefetz at the Herzliya Magistrate's Court for a libel suit against him and other associates of the prime minister

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.

While the Prime Minister has not been named as a suspect in relation to the former corruption scandal involving an Israeli telecommunications company, he has been implicated by association after Israeli media reported he received favourable coverage for himself and his family while he was acting Minister of Communications from late 2014 to February a year ago.

Netanyahu also released a response statement denying the existence of the deal.

Gerstel was shocked by the attempted bribe and told then-Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut about it.

The police have indicated attempts to get Hefetz or another former top Netanyahu aide, Shlomo Filber, a central character in the Bezeq media affair, to turn against the prime minister as a state's witness.

Ironically, police requested to extend the remand of Hefetz, he is already behind bars due to his connection to another investigation, known as Case 4000.

Shaul Elovitch, a family friend of Netanyahu's who controls telecoms firm Bezeq through his Eurocom holding company, was arrested along with his wife, his son and Bezeq's CEO Stella Handler.

"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?"

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It is anxious about that the number of cases has jumped from 5,273 in 2016 to 21,315 in 2017, resulting in 35 deaths. Other states to be seriously affected were Greece with 967 cases, Germany with 927, and Belgium with 369.

Netanyahu's government also introduced a bill to bar criminal investigations against the sitting prime ministers.

Police suspect Elovitch was granted business concessions in return for Netanyahu receiving positive coverage on Walla!

Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee, will make the final decision on whether to file charges - a process that is expected to take several months. Per the bill drafted by Likud's MK Dudi Amsalem, the bill in its present form may not stop already launched investigations against Netanyahu but critics say he could use the bill, if passed, to his advantage during the next round of elections.

Meanwhile Maariv reported that Hefetz's detention has been extended because, according to the paper, he allegedly put pressure on judge Hila Gerstel to close an investigation that was ongoing at the time against Sara Netanyahu.

The revelations come just days after police said there were grounds to indict Netanyahu himself in a separate case for bribery, fraud and breach of public trust, in the biggest challenge yet to the right-wing premier's long tenure in power.

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). "In return, police say, Netanyahu had operated on Milchan's behalf on U.S. visa matters, introduced a tax break and connected him with an Indian businessman", reports The Guardian.

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.

Israel's police chief, Roni Alsheikh, said Tuesday that the police recommendations were coordinated with the attorney general and were handled in a professional manner.

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