Israeli media: Confidant to testify against Netanyahu in corruption probe

Former prime minister's spokesman Nir Hefetz at the Herzliya Magistrate's Court for a libel suit against him and other associates of the prime minister

In 2017 Sara Netanyahu was indicted on fraud and breach of trust for misuse of public funds by ordering catered meals to the official prime ministerial residence in Jerusalem while falsely claiming that the residence did not employ a cook.

The prime minister is accused of receiving lavish gifts from the Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and the Australian billionaire James Packer.

Police say that in return for lavish gifts that included jewelry, expensive cigars and champagne, Netanyahu had operated on Milchan's behalf on US visa matters, tried to legislate a generous tax break for him and sought to promote his interests in the Israeli media market.

Police suspect Bezeq received regulatory benefits in return for providing favourable media coverage of Netanyahu on Walla, a news website that is controlled by Elovitch's holding company Eurocom.

He turned on his former boss less than a week after police recommended pressing charges against Netanyahu in two other influence-peddling cases - and a day after news broke that police were investigating whether another longtime associate of the prime minister sought to bribe a judge.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara attend an inauguration ceremony for a fortified emergency room at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, southern Israel, February 20, 2018.

While Netanyahu's coalition partners had been saying they would stand by him, they have remained largely silent since Sunday.

Either way, Zionist Union faction Chairman Yoel Hasson is said to be working on steps in preparation for an election on Wednesday, although, according to the Jerusalem Post, his office abstained from giving any comment on whether the party was preparing a bill to dissolve the Knesset.

Police allege that Mr Netanyahu, having received the gifts, pushed for the Milchan Law, which would have ensured that Israelis who return to live in Israel from overseas are exempt from paying taxes for 10 years. Netanyahu reportedly was recorded asking Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Yediot Ahronot daily, for positive coverage in exchange for helping to weaken Israel Hayom, a free pro-Netanyahu newspaper that had cut into Yediot's business.

Shlomo Filber, a Netanyahu confidant appointed as director of the communications ministry by the premier, was also arrested, along with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, members of Elovitch's family, and senior Bezeq executives.

Netanyahu was Israel's acting communications minister when several controversial deals were made with Elovitch.

Mr. Hefetz is now suspected of approaching Israel's then commissioner for prosecutorial oversight, Judge Hila Gerstel, with an offer for the attorney general position if she would drop an ongoing corruption case against Ms. Netanyahu. Netanyahu's former chief of staff Ari Harow has also signed a state witness settlement in which he agreed to testify against his former mentor.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a bitter rival of Netanyahu, told Channel 10 TV "there is no way back" for the premier.

But the cases gave new fuel to opposition calls for Netanyahu to step aside as he fights a growing list of corruption scandals. Hefetz and the middleman are being held in police custody.

A Case 3000 is also looking into potential wrongdoing involving Netanyahu's personal lawyer and German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp's local representative.

The attorney general will have to rule on this case as well.

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