Evidence pertaining to one of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption cases has been leaked to the media, appearing to show his quid pro quo deal with a newspaper tycoon in return for favourable media coverage.
Published by Israel's Channel 12 last night, the leak included a transcript of a conversation between Netanyahu and the publisher of popular Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, which lies at the centre of what has become known as Case 2000. In the case, Netanyahu allegedly offered to pass legislation that would impede the activities of Mozes' rival newspaper, Israel Hayom, in return for more favourable media coverage of the prime minister and his policies.
Israel Police also suspect that, in return for curbing Israel Hayom, Mozes offered to hire journalists recommended by Netanyahu to undermine his rival politicians.
In the leaked conversation, "Mozes can reportedly be heard admitting [to] slanting coverage against Netanyahu's election rivals and 'hiding' negative articles about the premier's wife [Sara], while urging the prime minister to file a libel lawsuit and figuratively 'kill' a Yedioth writer who is a fierce Netanyahu critic," the Times of Israel (ToI) reported, citing the Channel 12 broadcast.
The TV channel said that in a recording from December 2014 — ahead of Israel's 2015 election — "Netanyahu can be heard complaining to Mozes that [election rivals Yair] Lapid and [Naftali] Bennett were being handled with kids' gloves in Yedioth and [its associated online publication] Ynet".
ToI adds that the pair "also discussed Netanyahu's desire to ensure that Bennett win 'under 15' seats in the election," adding that his Jewish Home party "eventually won eight [seats], but was projected at the time for as much as 17," suggesting the policy was successful.
The leak of the recordings will likely be greeted with frustration by Netanyahu and his legal team, who have fought to keep such information out of the media.
In March, the prime minister's lawyers asked Israel's Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, not to release the case materials until after the general election on 9 April, fearing any leaks could drive voters away from his Likud party in the final weeks of campaigning. Mandelblit relented and agreed to withhold the evidence until 10 April, making the evidence available for collection immediately afterwards.
However, in what has been seen as an attempt to stall the indictment process, Netanyahu's lawyers refused to collect the case materials. Late last month, Mandelblit warned that they must receive the files and contact him to schedule proceedings by 10 May, or lose the opportunity to present their case before criminal charges were handed down.
Just one day before the deadline, the legal team asked to delay the hearing beyond the 10 July date previously mandated by the attorney general. On Sunday, when Israel's Justice Ministry sent a courier directly to the office of Netanyahu's attorney to deliver the case documents, as well as a letter detailing Mandelblit's response to the request for a delay to the hearing, the attorney's office staff refused to receive it.
Yet in a complete reversal of this strategy, on Tuesday Netanyahu finally agreed to collect the evidence, set a hearing date and pay some of his legal fees. Netanyahu has demanded that his millionaire cousin, Nathan Milikowsky, be allowed to pay his legal fees, but given the latter's involvement in a separate corruption case often known as the "Submarine Affair" and Netanyahu's personal wealth, the State Comptroller has insisted that the prime minister cover the fees himself.
It is not clear what prompted Netanyahu's decision to finally accept the evidence.
Case 2000 is just one of several corruption cases in which Netanyahu is currently embroiled. In Case 1000, Netanyahu stands accused of accepting lavish gifts from two influential businessmen in return for favourable legislation and personal favours. Meanwhile in Case 4000 – sometimes known as the Bezeq case – Netanyahu is accused of providing regulatory benefits to Shaul Elovitch, the owner of telecom giant Bezeq, in return for favourable coverage on Elovitch's Walla news site.
July's court hearing will present the evidence in all three cases, given the overlapping witnesses and defendants. Netanyahu now faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust which, if he is found guilty, could result in up to ten years in prison.