An Israeli media mogul admitted Tuesday to providing news coverage that favored the country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Shaul Elovitch, controlling shareholder of Bezeq Tel, told police in an interview that he personally altered news reports on the website Walla, which he owns, to avoid “annoying” the prime minister.
Bezeq Tel is the biggest telecommunications corporation in Israel. Police say they have evidence that there was a quid pro quo scheme at play between Netanyahu’s family and the corporation, which was allegedly rewarded with profitable regulations, but Elovitch denied knowing anything about a bribery scheme.
In an interrogation lasting more than four hours on Tuesday, Elovitch confessed to calling Walla’s CEO Ilan Yeshua to change the website’s content to make the Netanyahu family look good. However, he denied accepting any bribes.
“I couldn’t ignore the pleas of [the prime minister’s wife] Sara Netanyahu and the rest of the Netanyahu family. I didn’t want to anger the prime minister. He was my regulator… What did you expect? That I would ignore those requests?” Elovitch said. “But I never expected any favors in return. I didn’t talk to Netanyahu about regulatory benefits and there was no bribery deal.”
Netanyahu deflects accusations of bribery
Netanyahu himself was also interrogated on Tuesday for about four hours at home. The prime minister, who was communications minister when the alleged scheme took place, deflected the accusations with financial records that showed Bezeq losing business at the time when it would have been profiting from the alleged scheme.
“Take Bezeq’s financial balances during the time I was a minister and Filber was Bezeq CEO… Bezeq suffered financial losses,” Netanyahu said, referring to former Communications Ministry Director-General Shlomo Filber. The prime minister also explained that he approved the profitable acquisition of satellite TV provider Yes by Elovitch on the advice of committees put into place by his predecessor, Moshe Kalon.
“I didn’t approve it. I only formally signed it,” Netanyaku explained. “The merger had been approved by committees established during Kahlon.”
The prime minister also denied benefiting from skewed coverage, and showed articles to the police that he claimed were 75 percent hostile towards his wife. That coverage prompted a text from his wife Sara to Elovitch’s wife, Iris, in which she complained about the site’s “left-wing coverage.”
“If there was a bribery deal, why didn’t Sara write what she was giving them?” the prime minister asked police.
A spokesperson for the family went on to call the accusations “baseless” in a statement, which added that Walla provided mostly “negative coverage” and tried to sway the 2015 election against Netanyahu.
It was Netanyahu’s 10th interrogation in a series of corruption probes. Both Sara and the couple’s son, Yair, have faced interrogators before, but were not interviewed Tuesday.
Netanyahu is facing possible indictments in two other corruption investigations — known as Case 1000 and Case 2000 — for allegedly accepting illicit gifts and arranging a quid pro quo scheme with another newspaper. Former media adviser Nir Hafetz has testified against Netanyahu in both cases, as well as the Bezeq case.
Interrogators reportedly confronted Netanyahu with audio recordings given them by Hafetz regarding the Bezeq case on Tuesday. Police say Hafetz has provided evidence that shows Netanyahu and Elovitch knowingly engaged in an illicit quid pro quo scheme.
Netanyahu said that “nothing new was presented” to him during the interrogation, his fourth so far in the Bezeq case. He is expected to face at least one more.