Case 4000: Puff Pieces for Official Help
THE BACKDROP From 2014 to 2017, Mr. Netanyahu, while prime minister, also personally managed the communications ministry.
THE PLAYERS Shaul Elovitch, a friend of Mr. Netanyahu’s and owner of the Eurocom Group holding company; his wife, Iris, a friend of Sara Netanyahu’s; their son, Or, an aide to his father and board member in some of their holdings; Stella Handler, the chief executive of Bezeq; Shlomo Filber, the director-general of the communications ministry under Mr. Netanyahu.
THE TELECOM Mr. Elovitch, who had long shared ownership of the Yes satellite network with Bezeq, Israel’s biggest telecommunications company, bought a controlling stake in Bezeq itself in 2010. Heavily indebted, he arranged a merger of Yes into Bezeq in 2015 — and caused Bezeq to pay several times more than independent valuations showed Yes was worth, investigators say. The communications ministry aided several of Mr. Elovitch’s moves, effectively helping him reap tens of millions of dollars, they say.
THE NEWS SITE Bezeq also owns Walla news, a popular Israeli website. At the direction of Mr. Elovitch and other executives, the site provided lopsidedly flattering coverage of Mr. Netanyahu and his wife for months, investigators say.
THE SECURITIES PROBE In November, the Israeli Securities Authority said it had found evidence that financial reports on the Yes-Bezeq merger had been doctored to produce a windfall for Mr. Elovitch, and that Mr. Filber had routinely passed inside information from the communications ministry to Ms. Handler at Bezeq.
UNDER INVESTIGATION NOW Possible violations of money-laundering, breach-of-trust and securities laws; whether Mr. Netanyahu’s aides traded official actions for favorable coverage on the Walla site; possible obstruction of the Securities Authority’s investigation.
WHAT NETANYAHU SAYS“All the decisions in Bezeq are made by professional committees, by professionals, under close legal supervision. This is not the Wild West. These are not private decisions. All the decisions are transparent and controlled. Therefore the claim that I acted for the benefit of Bezeq at the expense of professional considerations is simply and fundamentally baseless.”