JERUSALEM – A taped conversation involving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is causing a stir in Israel, with some accusing the longtime leader of getting entangled in bribery.
In the taped conversation, Netanyahu is said to be offering benefits to a businessman in exchange for his political support.
The businessman on Sunday, Jan. 8 was revealed by Israel Channel 2 news to be Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Yedioth Acharonot newspaper. Accusations of a quid pro quo discussion between the two men, who are said to be major rivals, are backed up by the tape, Haaretz reported.
Netanyahu was questioned over the case in January. Mozes reportedly also has been questioned.
Haaretz reported that the tape helps confirm that the two men struck a deal that would have Netanyahu use his influence to convince American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to either close his pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom or at least cancel its weekend edition. Less competition from Israel Hayom, a free tabloid, would help Yedioth Acharonot.
In exchange, according to reports, Yedioth would drop an investigative report on Netanyahu’s son, Yair.
Also, there are reports that Mozes told Netanyahu at a 2014 meeting that he would do everything he could to keep Netanyahu in power if the prime minister advanced legislation to curtail the distribution of Israel Hayom, according to the Times of Israel.
The Times of Israel reported that if true, the allegations could amount to bribery and could lead to ruinous criminal charges.
“If the reports are true, and there was a promise made by a powerful publisher to the prime minister and the prime minister promised to advance a law in return, then there is no question that this is bribery,” Avia Alef, the former head of the financial investigations department in the state prosecutor’s office, reportedly told Army Radio in Israel.
Tablet, the Jewish newsmagazine, also calls the allegations a reported “bribe” and labels the situation a “House of Cards-like scandal.”
A Haaretz editorial argues that “given the latest information, it seems as if the attorney general will have no choice but to file charges soon against both Netanyahu and Mozes.”
Netanyahu’s office has not commented on the reports, but the prime minister said at the weekly Cabinet meeting: “Now that I know what is being investigated, I can tell you with certainty there will be nothing because there is nothing.” He has repeated the phrase since news of the investigations broke in December.
Israeli television also reported in January that Netanyahu asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry three times in 2014 to intervene to reinstate a long-term visa to the United States for film producer Arnon Milchan. The visa reportedly was secured and Milchan provided many expensive gifts to the Netanyahus, such as cigars and pink champagne.
Israeli commentators have not viewed the gifts allegation to be as legally problematic as the alleged newspaper coverage negotiations.