Netanyahu aides named as suspects in new corruption probe

Violet Powell
February 22, 2018

One of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's closest confidants has turned state witness and will incriminate him in corruption allegations, media reports say.

Shlomo Filber, a Netanyahu ally for more than 20 years and former director general of the communications ministry, is expected to agree to turn state witness in exchange for avoiding jail, according to reports across the Israeli press.

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

The prime minister, who was also the communications minister until a year ago, has not been named as a suspect, although he may soon be questioned.

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

"As part of the investigation, suspicions accumulated on felonies concerning ethics, fraud, money laundering and securities violations, conducted over extended periods of time, frequently and systematically as part of relationships between Bezeq executives and public servants and their associates", police said on Tuesday.

In a video released late Tuesday, Netanyahu appeared ashen and described the claims "total madness". He has denied all the charges, calling them part of a media witch-hunt, and has vowed to carry on.

"The Netanyahu government's days are numbered, and we already need to prepare for the upcoming election in order not to be caught unprepared, because we are dealing with our internal election", Gilon said.

His Likud party now holds 30 seats in the 120-seat parliament, but that could rise to 34 if an election were called today, according to the poll.

"The events of the last two days and recent hours make very clear: The Netanyahu age is over".

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The first one involves his wife Sara and he receiving illegal gifts from Israeli billionaires in exchange for favors, as the case with Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan who gifted the family hundreds of thousands of shekels' worth of cigars and champagne.

Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid Party, said that if Netanyahu doesn't want to resign, he should at least declare himself "incapacitated", allowing a caretaker prime minister to be appointed.

But with those closest to him under intense police and public scrutiny, and his typically loyal political allies suddenly turning silent, Netanyahu faces the stiffest challenge yet to his lengthy rule.

A survey published on February 14 showed that nearly half of Israel's electorate believe police allegations of bribery against Netanyahu, while 25 percent said they believed Netanyahu's denials.

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

The aide, Nir Hefetz, is suspected of having offered Judge Hila Gerstel the appointment of attorney general if she dismissed a pending case concerning Sara Netanyahu's excessive household spending.

In the second case, Netanyahu is accused of offering a newspaper publisher legislation that would weaken his paper's main rival, in return for more favourable coverage.

So far, partners in his governing coalition have stood by Netanyahu, saying they were awaiting the attorney-general's next moves.

Elovitch is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

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