Benjamin Netanyahu's inner circle wanted someone close to his family to buy the Walla news website, former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua alleged Monday as the prime minister's corruption trial resumed in Jerusalem District Court.
Monday marked the sixth day of the trial’s evidentiary stage, which is currently focused on Case 4000 - the first and most serious of three cases against Netanyahu.
In the case, the prime minister is accused of conspiring with Shaul Elovitch, who at the time owned both Walla and Israeli telecoms giant Bezeq, to provide Netanyahu with positive news coverage in return for favorable legislation that would be profitable for Elovitch.
Both Elovitch and his wife Iris are defendants in the case.
According to Yeshua, a witness for the prosecution, the potential buyers allegedly considered included Australian billionaire businessman James Packer.
Monday's trial proceedings dealt mainly with the alleged pressure exerted by Netanyahu's inner circle over the potential sale of Walla.
"Elovitch told me that [Netanyahu] talked to Packer about the possibility of him buying Walla," Yeshua told the court. "Shaul was not interested and neither was Packer, but the prime minister was pressuring him to buy it."
The hearing also focused on a series of requests that allegedly preceded Israel's 2013 elections, in which Ze’ev Rubinstein, another close associate of Netanyahu, allegedly forwarded requests to Walla for reportage that the prime minister's political rivals including Naftali Bennett from the right and Tzipi Livni and Shelly Yachimovich on the center-left.
"I got document files and instructions," said Yeshua, who according to evidence submitted by the prosecution transferred the files to then-Walla editor Yinon Magal and his deputy Liron Meroz and then-head of news Aviram Elad.
Yeshua wrote to the three in a message accompanying the files: "This is material sent to me anonymously about Bennett.... If there is anything journalistic here then use it. Check it thoroughly and if there is no public interest in it then throw it in the trash."
The hearing later shifted to 2014, when Netanyahu signed off on the purchase of the Yad2 online sales website, which belonged to a Walla subsidiary, by a German communications corporation for NIS 800 million. The money from the sale was transferred to the Bezeq Group's coffers, controlled at the time by Elovitch.
"It was a phenomenal deal, there was a profit of NIS 700 million," Yeshua testified.
Last week, Yeshua told the court that he had been under heavy pressure from the Elovitches to provide better coverage for the prime minister and his family.
Netanyahu says he is innocent of all charges and claims to be the victim of a witch hunt and attempted coup.