Top Suspects in Bezeq Case to Remain in Custody

Former Prime Minister’s Office manager Nir Hefetz at a hearing for extension of his remand at the District Court in Tel Aviv last Thursday. (Flash90)

Shaul Elovich and Nir Hefetz, two of the primary suspects in Case 4000, also known as the Bezeq Affair, will remain in custody for at least eight more days, the Tel Aviv District Court decided Tuesday. Attorneys for the two had appealed a decision Monday by the court to keep them in custody, after most of the suspects in the case were released with the news of improper communications between the judge and an Israel Securities Authority lawyer.

Prosecutors told the court Tuesday that releasing Elovich would be a bad idea, as he was viewed as a flight risk. Elovich’s Eurocom holding company benefited from decisions made by the government that are part of the investigation to the tune of NIS 680 million. “This is a very serious bribery case,” the prosecutors said. “That ‘positive reporting’ was the objective of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for his involvement in the case is a major understatement. It is about using a major news site, the Walla site, to serve the man in charge of the Communications Ministry, Netanyahu.”

Netanyahu is likely to be questioned by police in the case on Friday, media reports said. The Prime Minister has been accused of advancing the interests of Elovich, the majority shareholder in Bezeq, in return for positive coverage on the Walla site. The case was complicated Sunday by revelations that Ronit Poznansky-Katz, the judge handling the remands of suspects in the Bezeq case, conducted secret communications with a senior attorney in the Israel Securities Authority.

Poznansky-Katz has been suspended from the case, and her duties were taken over by Alla Masarwa, who on Monday morning heard arguments from attorneys for the five suspects – Shaul Elovich; his son Or and wife, Iris; Eli Kamir; and Nir Hefetz – that they should all be released from remand, given the developments. Shaul Elovich’s attorney told Masarwa that “never in my career have I seen something like this. We believe that the entire case has been tainted, and that the suspects should be released.” Most of the suspects – except for Elovich and Hefetz – were released Monday, and on Tuesday, the court decided that they would remain in custody for at least another week.

On Tuesday, the State Civil Service Authority decided that Poznansky-Katz would be subject to a hearing for violating ethics and norms of the legal system, but that she would not be prosecuted criminally.

MKs on the right were up in arms over the “messages scandal,” as the affair has been dubbed.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that “this is one of the most shocking things I have ever seen. It is a violation of human rights on the highest level. Suspects who are questioned need to believe that they are being treated fairly and that they have a chance to convince a judge not to keep them in prison. I see these actions [of the judges] as a crime, and I hope that these two will be criminally investigated.”

On Monday night, Netanyahu again proclaimed his innocence, responding specifically to a report on Hadashot News that the benefits provided to Elovich may have been as much as a billion shekels. “There is no basis for the accusations against the Prime Minister,” his office said in a statement. “All of the decisions made were done in a professional manner, based on professional standards, with the backing of expert committees and legal advisors.” Quoting a report by the Justice Ministry, Netanyahu’s office said that “there were no decisions that benefited Bezeq specifically, and none that created a conflict of interest.

“Daily, the numbers involved in these ‘scandals’ rises,” the statement added. “It started out with tens of millions of shekels, moved on to hundreds of millions, and now we are up to a billion shekels. Tomorrow they will be talking about a trillion. In the end, the truth will prevail, and the hot air will be let out of this balloon as well, because no wrong was done.”