Israeli police arrest telecom officials in graft case

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli police revealed on Tuesday they had arrested the controlling shareholder and CEO of the country's biggest telecoms company, as well as two former officials with close ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a corruption case.

The new probe comes days after police announced there was sufficient evidence to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases.

Mr Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and said the latest charges against him were merely a continuation of a wider media-orchestrated witch hunt against him and his family. Former journalists at the Walla news site have attested to being pressured to refrain from negative reporting of Netanyahu.

A statement from Israeli police on Tuesday confirmed an investigation "connected to suspicions that took place in 2015 when a senior public member was approached to assist in advancing her position to the position of Attorney General (diverting the selection process for that specific candidate) in exchange for a future promise/agreement regarding a case".

The mushrooming corruption scandal plaguing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel turned in a surprising new direction on Tuesday, with an allegation that one of his closest advisers had sought to bribe a judge into dropping a criminal investigation involving the prime minister's wife. She has denied the allegations and a final decision on charges is pending.

Hefetz, who served as the prime minister's media adviser from 2014 to 2017, is under arrest for his alleged involvement in that case.

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Owner of the Bezeq telecommunications company, Shaul Elovitch, was also arrested along with his wife and son as part of the investigation.

Their alleged offer was to Hila Gerstel, a judge involved in a graft probe into Sara Netanyahu over alleged misuse of public funds.

Police alleged that Netanyahu worked with Arnon Milchan, a well-known Israeli-born Hollywood producer to arrange a USA visa, lessen the billionaire's tax burden, assist with business ventures, and intervene in the media market on Milchan's behalf. According to Channel 2 TV, Netanyahu allegedly received favorable coverage from the Walla news site, a Bezeq subsidiary, in exchange for regulation that earned Elovitch hundreds of millions of shekels.

Of the seven people arrested Sunday, two are close confidants of Netanyahu - one is his former spokesman and the other is reportedly a close friend.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

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