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Police suspect Benjamin Netanyahu associate of trying to bribe judge

21 February 2018

Israeli police said on Tuesday that two associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were suspected of offering a judge promotion in return for closing a criminal case against the premier's wife.

Netanyahu, who was the Communications Minister until 2017, is now not a suspect in this affair, according to the police, but local media widely reported that he is expected to be questioned in the recent days. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert added in her February 13 press briefing that the USA considered Netanyahu's corruption cases "an internal Israeli matter".

A major new spin-off development from the newly revealed Attorney-General Job Affair came out a few hours later on Tuesday afternoon, when it was reported that the police would question Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on Tuesday night.

Earlier Tuesday, with an initial gag order lifted, police identified Hefetz and Shlomo Filber, the former director of the communications ministry under Netanyahu, as the two suspects in promoting regulation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel's Bezeq telecom company, in return for favorable coverage of Netanyahu in a highly popular subsidiary news site.

But the cases gave new fuel to opposition calls for Netanyahu to step aside as he fights a growing list of corruption scandals.

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Also arrested were Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of telecommunications group Bezeq, as well as members of his family and senior Bezeq executives.

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They are suspected of promoting a deal to give Netanyahu and his wife favorable coverage in Walla, a news site controlled by Bezeq, in return for the promotion of regulations worth hundreds of millions of USA dollars to the telecom company.

Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect in the Bezeq affair, but a spokesman for his family responded to media reports on the investigation, calling them "yet another empty probe" that would yield nothing. She has denied the allegations and a final decision on charges is pending.

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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.

Last week, in connection with two other cases, Israeli police recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, "opening the way for what could be the biggest challenge yet to the right-wing leader's political survival", says Reuters.

Last September Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said he was considering indicting Sara Netanyahu for fraud over suspected use of state funds for personal dining and catering services amounting to some $100,000.

He is accused of receiving lavish gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.

At home, opponents from the Israeli left are demanding he resign or declared himself "incapacitated" and "even Israel's enemies have begun seizing on Netanyahu's legal predicament", says The New York Times. In return, Netanyahu is alleged by police to have intervened on Milchan's behalf in matters relating to legislation, business dealings, and visa arrangements.

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Police suspect Benjamin Netanyahu associate of trying to bribe judge