JERUSALEM — The mushrooming corruption scandal plaguing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel turned in a surprising new direction on Tuesday, with an allegation that one of his closest advisers had sought to bribe a judge into dropping a criminal investigation involving the prime minister’s wife.
At the same time, the Israeli police said they had arrested several of Mr. Netanyahu’s friends and confidants, as well as top executives of Bezeq, the country’s biggest telecommunications company, in a widening inquiry into whether Mr. Netanyahu had traded official favors for favorable news coverage. That inquiry involves suspicions of obstruction of justice, as well as fraud and breach of trust, the police said.
Mr. Netanyahu was already embattled, after the police recommended a week ago that he be prosecuted for accepting what they said were nearly $300,000 in bribes from wealthy businessmen seeking government favors.
The new allegations significantly raise the level of political and legal peril he faces, suggesting that Mr. Netanyahu or his camp could be exposed to obstruction of justice charges.
According to the police and Israeli news reports, Nir Hefetz, a top adviser to the prime minister, passed a message to a former judge, Hila Gerstel, through an intermediary in late 2015: Would she drop the case against Sara Netanyahu in exchange for being named attorney general?
The case was not dropped, and Judge Gerstel, who was Israel’s commissioner for prosecutorial oversight, did not become attorney general. Avichai Mandelblit, who did get the job, announced in September that he intended to indict Sara Netanyahu on fraud charges, accusing her of misusing some $100,000 through her management of the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem.