Israeli police questioned Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday for the first time in a corruption case that involves the country’s largest telecommunications company Bezeq, Israel Radio said.
Police allege the owners of Bezeq Telecom provided favourable coverage of the Israeli prime minister and his wife on a news website they controlled, in return for favours from communications regulators.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in this case, and two others in which he is also a suspect.
In the newest investigation, known as Case 4000, police allege that the owners of Bezeq Israel Telecom provided favourable coverage of Netanyahu and his wife on a news website they controlled in return for favours from communications regulators.
Israel Radio said Netanyahu’s wife Sara was being questioned at the same time, at a police station near Tel Aviv.
The controlling shareholder of Bezeq Telecom, Shaul Elovitch, is currently in police custody, as is a former Netanyahu spokesman. They deny any wrongdoing.
Shlomo Filber, a confidant of Netanyahu and former director general of the Communications Ministry, has also been arrested in connection with the case, and has agreed to turn state’s witness, according to Israeli media.
Netanyahu, Israel’s dominant political figure for a generation – in power since 2009 and for 12 years in total since 1996 – calls the allegations against him a “witch hunt”. He has said he will seek a fifth term in a national election due in late 2019.
Police recommended in February that Netanyahu be indicted in two other corruption investigations. The attorney-general must determine whether to accept the police recommendation to charge him. The final decision on both cases could take months.
In one, known as Case 1000, he is suspected of bribery over gifts, which police say were worth nearly $300,000, that he received from wealthy businessmen.
The other, Case 2000, involves an alleged plot to win positive coverage in Israel’s biggest newspaper by offering to take measures to curtail the circulation of a rival daily.
So far, partners in Netanyahu’s governing coalition have stood by him, saying they were awaiting the attorney-general’s next moves. Political analysts say that could change if the investigations against Netanyahu intensify.
Netanyahu could also call a snap election to try to stall legal proceedings during the campaign and rally his right-wing power base behind him.