Israeli police question Netanyahu, wife separately in corruption case

Israeli police Friday questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a suspect in a third corruption investigation that poses a serious challenge to the embattled leader, who so far has rallied support to maintain power.

Investigators questioned Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem Friday morning in the Bezeq corruption probe.

Investigators were at the same time to take a statement from his wife Sara at national fraud squad headquarters near Tel Aviv, media said.

The case, known as the Bezeq Affair, centers around the relationship between Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch, the owner of the news site Walla.

Police are believed to have incriminating text messages between the two women, as well as evidence of Iris Elovitch's conversations with her husband about news coverage of the Netanyahu family.

It is the first time that Netanyahu, who as prime minister also held the communications portfolio until a year ago, is being questioned over the affair, known as Case 4,000.

In February police recommended that Netanyahu, 68, be indicted for bribery in two other corruption investigations.

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Netanyahu has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in both cases and has questioned the integrity of high-ranking officers handling the investigations, calling the probes a politically motivated "witch hunt". The lawyer said Sara was questioned under police caution, indicating that she could become a suspect.

Case 2000, said police, involved deals made between Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, publisher of the popular Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

One of the two Netanyahu's confidants arrested last month has turned state witness and will reportedly incriminate him in the corruption allegations.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of the ultranationalist party Jewish Home, said that according to the law, Netanyahu can stay in the job through the end of his trial.

According to the police recommendation, Case 1000 involves gifts of cigars and jewelry that the prime minister and his wife are suspected of receiving from billionaire benefactors such as Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian business executive James Packer. In return, police say Mr. Netanyahu operated on Mr. Milchan's behalf on US visa matters, legislated a tax break and connected him with an Indian businessman.

Case 2000 concerns allegations Netanyahu sought a deal with the owner of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper that would have seen it give him more favourable coverage.

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.


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