Israeli police revealed Tuesday they had arrested several friends and confidants of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, increasing the pressure on the scandal hit premier, who faces allegations of corruption.
The arrests were part of an investigation known as “Case 4000,” which centers on whether two of Netanyahu’s associates – and potentially the premier himself – pushed legislation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel’s largest telecom, Bezeq, in exchange for favorable coverage of Netanyahu on a subsidiary news site, Walla.
The arrested include Netanyahu’s former spokesman Nir Hefetz and his former Communications Ministry Director-General Shlomo Filber.
Shaul Elovitch, Bezeq’s controlling shareholder and a family friend of the premier, was also arrested, along with his wife and son, and Bezeq’s CEO, Stella Handler.
The arrests were made Sunday, but their identities were not disclosed for two days in accordance with Israeli criminal procedure.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Netanyahu is expected to be questioned under caution himself once investigators build enough of a case through questioning the existing suspects.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Netanyahu – who was Israel’s communications minister from March 2015 until February 2017 – declared his innocence, writing: “There has never been any payback or illegal act in interaction with Elovitch.” He has described the various allegations against him as the product of a “witch hunt” by a hostile media.
The arrests took place days after police said there was enough evidence to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in relation two other cases, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. In the first case, the prime minister and his wife are accused of receiving expensive gifts from moguls in exchange for favors; in the second case, Netanyahu is alleged to have offered a newspaper publisher laws that would hurt his business rival in exchange for flattering coverage.
Sunday’s arrests were revealed as Israeli media unveiled yet another allegation against the prime minister Tuesday.
According to reports, there are claims that Nefetz sent a message to Israel’s commissioner for prosecutorial oversight, Judge Hila Gerstel, through a middleman in late 2015, asking whether she would be prepared to drop a case against Netanyahu’s wife in exchange for being appointed attorney general.
The case against Sara Netanyahu – for allegedly misusing $100,000 in her management of the prime minister’s official residence – was not dropped, and Gerstel did not receive the appointment.
A spokesman for the Netanyahu family denied that any such approach had taken place, The New York Times reported. “Nir Hefetz never offered this hallucinatory proposal to the prime minister and his wife,” Ofer Golan said. “He was never asked to make such a proposal, and we do not believe that Hefetz even raised such a thing.”
Cover image: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he attends the Muni World conference in Tel Aviv on February 14, 2018. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)