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  HOME | World (Click here for more)

Israeli Police Question Netanyahu in Third Corruption Investigation

TEL AVIV Ė Israeli police questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday 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, according to a report from Dow Jones.

Police also questioned the prime ministerís wife, Sara Netanyahu, regarding the case, conducting the interview at the same time as her husband but in a different location, a police spokeswoman said.

The police havenít yet ascertained whether the first lady is also a suspect, the spokeswomen said. Netanyahu was questioned at home Friday.

The investigation focuses on whether Israeli officials organized positive media coverage for Netanyahu and his wife on a popular news website. In return, police say officials promoted regulation worth tens of millions of dollars to the siteís owner, telecom firm Bezeq and one of its major shareholders.

Police already have recommended corruption charges against Netanyahu in two other cases, but this investigation Ė known as Case 4000 Ė is considered more serious by many observers because it involves larger sums of money and the countryís biggest listed telecom firm.

The former director of the communications ministry and confidant of Netanyahu, Shlomo Filber, also turned state witness in the case last week, according to the Dow Jones report.

A spokesman for the Netanyahu family didnít respond to a request for comment Friday. Bezeq has repeatedly declined to comment on Case 4000. The news site, Walla, has also declined to comment.

Mr. Netanyahu and his wife deny wrongdoing in all the cases and have said the media and police are orchestrating a campaign to force him from power.

The police investigations are captivating Israelis but they arenít damaging the prime ministerís standing among a large part of the electorate, polls show, and members of his right-wing coalition remain steadfast in support.

In all, police have launched five investigations into Netanyahu and his associates and have already questioned him. They last month urged prosecutors to charge the leader with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two of those cases.

The first recommendation alleged the leader received gifts worth $280,000 for favors and the second said he organized positive media coverage in a newspaper in return for limiting the influence of another.

Israelís attorney general will now decide whether to issue a formal indictment in those cases, a process that could take months.

Roughly half of Israelis polled want Netanyahu to resign following the police recommendations and new revelations about Bezeq, while 33 percent say he should remain, according to a survey last week by broadcaster Channel 2.

Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party won 23.4 percent of the popular vote in the last election in 2015, gaining 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset. Likud would remain the largest faction in the parliament if the country currently held elections, winning 26 seats or more, according to two recent polls.

Netanyahuís coalition partners give the prime minister a slim majority of 66 seats in parliament. Those allies have so far refused to leave government unless the attorney general issues a formal indictment, according to Dow Jones.

To force a government collapse, some ministers have indicated formal charges would also have to demonstrate serious wrongdoing such as bribery, rather than taking gifts or orchestrating positive media coverage.

Sara Netanyahuís interrogation Friday isnít the first time she has faced police questioning.

State prosecutors in September said they would issue a formal indictment for the prime ministerís wife over alleged spending improprieties at the official residence, once they held a hearing with Netanyahuís lawyers on the issue.

It isnít clear whether that hearing was held. Legal analysts have speculated that Sara Netanyahuís legal fate is now likely tied to her husbandís.

 

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