In his first response to the recommendations by police that he be indicted on corruption charges in Case 4000, the influence-peddling probe that alleges that he offered his good services to Israeli billionaire Shaul Elovich in return for positive coverage on the Walla news site, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that the decision did not surprise him. Neither did the timing, he added – a day before outgoing Police Commissioner Roni Alshich was set to step down from his post.
“The recommendations about myself and my spouse did not surprise anyone, and neither did the timing of his release,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. “These recommendations were set and leaked, even before the investigation began. These recommendations have no legal standing. Just in recent days the prosecution has dismissed a number of allegations against public servants. I am sure that in this case, after the facts are examined, the same conclusion will be reached – that there was nothing to investigate, because nothing happened.”
According to police, Elovich offered Netanyahu a quid pro quo deal of “better coverage” for the prime minister on the Walla site if the prime minister would help him get out of the financial bind he found himself in. At the heart of the scandal are favors that were allegedly done for Elovich, the majority shareholder in Bezeq and the Walla news site. The investigation focused on benefits Elovich allegedly received in his efforts to take control of Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage of Netanyahu on the Walla News site. Netanyahu and Elovich met several times during the period that Netanyahu was communications minister, the report said. Police said in the recommendations that a “solid case” existed that Netanyahu actively, and not just passively, aided Elovich by easing regulations on monopolies, which had prevented Bezeq from acquiring the YES satellite organization.
To accomplish that, Netanyahu fired Communications Ministry director-general Avi Berger and hired his loyalist and ex-campaign manager Shlomo Filber in order to ensure that government policy improperly favored Elovitch. The positive coverage for Netanyahu was coordinated via Netanyahu’s wife and Elovitch, his wife, Nir Chefetz, and some of Elovitch’s top Walla employees. Police also recommended that Elovich be tried on bribery charges.
Netanyahu received an outpouring of support from ministers at the Sunday Cabinet meeting. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz denounced the recommendations, but an apparently relaxed Netanyahu recommended that Katz relax too. “I appreciate the sentiments, but you are taking this too seriously, more seriously than me.” Not surprisingly, Zionist Camp chairperson Avi Gabay took the opportunity to slam Netanyahu, saying that he had “turned into a burden for Israel. A prime minister with so many investigations against him should resign, as he will be unable to do the job he was elected for. A man who is so obsessed about what the media will say about him cannot lead this country. Each day he is in office Israel gets more damaged.”