The publisher of Israel’s best-selling newspaper was called in for further police questioning on Monday amid an ongoing investigation into suspicions that he negotiated a behind-the-scenes deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give the premier more favorable coverage in exchange for legislation that would damage a competing daily.
Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes was questioned under caution by police at the the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit in Lod.
The interview came the day after Mozes spent eight hours being grilled by officers as part of Case 2000, an investigation into corruption allegations against Netanyahu that threatens his hold on power.
Ron Yaron, editor-in-chief of Yedioth Ahronoth, also gave a statement to police. On Sunday he wrote a front page editorial in which he indicated he had no knowledge at the time of the Netanyahu-Mozes deal, and that if the newspaper’s coverage had swung behind the prime minister he, and his staff, would have walked out.
Alongside allegations that he tried to negotiate a quid pro quo deal with Mozes, Netanyahu is also facing another investigation into claims that he and his wife received thousands of shekels’ worth of luxury gifts from an Israeli Hollywood-based film producer.
It was the third time Mozes has been interviewed by police in the case. Netanyahu, who has also been questioned, is expected to face officers again later this week.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and accused the media of conducting an “orchestrated campaign of unprecedented scope” in an attempt to bring down his government.
In recent days Channel 2 has been publishing leaked excerpts from hours of taped conversations Netanyahu reportedly had with Mozes in 2014 in which they were supposedly negotiating the terms of the agreement, which never came to fruition.
According to reports, Netanyahu and Mozes held several face-to-face conversations on the alleged deal under which Yedioth would scale back its critical coverage of the prime minister in return for Netanyahu ensuring legislation that would reduce the impact of Yedioth’s competitor, Sheldon Adelson’s pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom free daily.
Mozes has maintained that the meetings were Netanyahu’s idea, as was the deal, and he was expected to keep to that story during his questioning Monday, Channel 2 reported.
Netanyahu is said to have told police investigators, when questioned under caution, that he recorded the conversations because he believed Mozes was trying to extort him. He never had so much as “half an intention” of implementing any deal with Mozes, the TV station on Saturday quoted Netanyahu as insisting.
In the second corruption case against Netanyahu, regarding cigars, champagne and other gifts he and his wife, Sara, allegedly received from Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan, the prime minister’s own son Yair, was to be questioned this week, Channel 2 said Monday. Sara Netanyahu has already been interviewed about the affair.
Analysts have said indictments are possible in both cases, and some have begun to see the twin scandals as heralding the possible end of Netanyahu’s nearly eight years in power.
Lawmakers in the prime minister’s Likud party have indicated some are starting to make preparations for the “day after.”
Unnamed coalition sources quoted by Channel 2 said that should Netanyahu be charged, coalition leaders will begin pushing for him to suspend himself, though not before.
Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, resigned his office in 2009 before being indicted on a series of graft charges. He was eventually convicted on a small portion of them and is currently in prison.