Former Netanyahu aid denied bail in fraud inquiry


Jerusalem (AFP) – An Israeli court on Monday extended the remands of a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a top businessman, both linked to cases of suspected fraud against the premier, police said.

Tel Aviv magistrates court remanded Nir Hefetz, a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family, and Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of telecoms group Bezeq, until Sunday, a police statement said.

The two men were among seven suspects arrested last week as fraud suspicions against Netanyahu snowballed.

Police suspect Elovitch was given business concessions in return for Netanyahu receiving good press on Walla!, a news website he owns.

Hefetz is alleged to have acted as a messenger between Netanyahu and Bezeq and Walla! officials.

He is also suspected of trying to bribe a retired judge to block a probe into the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, over alleged misuse of public funds.

Police have questioned the premier seven times since the beginning of 2017, and last month said there was sufficient evidence to charge him for graft, fraud and breach of trust in two cases.

In one, he and family members are suspected of receiving one million shekels ($285,000, 230,000 euros) of luxury cigars, champagne and jewellery from wealthy personalities in exchange for financial or personal favours.

In the other case, investigators suspect the premier of trying to reach an agreement with the owner of Yediot Aharonot, a top Israeli daily newspaper, for more favourable coverage.

Israeli media said police would question him on the Bezeq affair for the first time on Friday.

He would also reportedly face interrogation as a witness in suspected corruption around Israel’s purchase of three submarines from German industrial giant ThyssenKrupp.

The cases have fuelled speculation he could be forced to step down or call an early election but Netanyahu says he is innocent of any wrongdoing.

Bezeq CEO Stella Handler and Elovitch’s wife Iris were released from custody to house arrest Monday and son Or Elovitch was freed on bail, police said.

Eli Kamir, another former Netanyahu adviser arrested last week, is to appear before a remand hearing on Wednesday.

– State witness –

Shlomo Filber, a Netanyahu ally for more than 20 years and former director general of the communications ministry, was freed last week after agreeing to turn state’s witness in exchange for avoiding jail, police said.

He is suspected of mediating between Netanyahu and Elovitch and promoting regulatory changes worth millions to Bezeq.

There was a new twist on Monday when the justice ministry promised a fast-track review of reports that another judge, Ronit Poznanski-Katz, and a National Securities Authority investigator colluded in remand decisions on the Bezeq case suspects.

The suspicions were revealed late Sunday on private TV channel 10 News which showed what it said were screen shots of text messages in which the investigator said that his side would ask for Stella Handler and Iris Elovitch to be held for a further “few days,” and told the judge she could “really, definitely give two days.”

“I’ll try and look appropriately surprised,” she allegedly replied.

Israeli public radio said that when asked by journalists to comment on the allegations during a parliamentary meeting of his Likud party Netanyahu just laughed.

Poznanski-Katz was replaced by another judge at Monday’s hearing and the justice ministry said in a statement that its complaints department would “assemble the material” and decide whether to pursue the allegations further by Tuesday afternoon.

Public radio said that by law the ministry could have taken up to a year to publish such a decision.

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