Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has allegedly tried to get one of his close associates to buy the Walla! News website, according to the police.
Among the potential buyers the prime minister allegedly had in mind were Sheldon Adelson, James Packer, Larry Ellison and Paul T. Marinelli.
The police claim to have evidence, which includes testimonies, showing how adamant Netanyahu was to ensure the site is sold to one of his associates.
The police recommended indicting both Netanyahu and Walla! News owner Shaul Elovitch in Case 4000, which deals with the alleged quid-pro-quo relationship between the two. Netanyahu is accused of promoting regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Bezeq and its majority shareholder Elovitch in return for favorable coverage on Walla! News.
One recommendation is to charge Netanyahu with breach of trust, based on evidence of Netanyahu's intensive efforts in 2013-2015 to have the Walla! News site sold to one of his billionaire associates.
Sheldon Adelson already owns the free daily newspaper Israel Hayom, which Netanyahu's critics say is biased in favor of the prime minister. James Packer is an Australian billionaire who was questioned by the Israel Police in connection with another investigation against Netanyahu, Case 1000, which concerns illicit gifts the prime minister allegedly received from wealthy associates.
With the exception of Packer, who remains in Australia and police investigators have been unable to collect testimony from him in Case 4000, the three other billionaires gave the police a detailed testimony about the attempts to purchase Walla! News.
"It was an obsessive endeavor for Prime Minister Netanyahu," said an inside source who is familiar with the details of the investigation. "Where else did you hear of a regulator, who is supposed to supervise media outlets, helping and promoting the sale of one? It's simply absurd."
Marinelli was apparently the keenest potential buyer. According to testimony the police obtained, Marinelli, Elovitch and Netanyahu met at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem to discuss the matter.
Marinelli also got a tour of the Walla! News offices, which was hosted by the CEO of the website Ilan Yeshua, who also presented him with commercial data about the site—allegedly to promote its sale.
However, recordings provided to the police by Yeshua apparently indicate that Elovitch had no real intention of selling the site. The Elovitch family allegedly sought to keep the site, seeing it as a strategic asset and a direct link to the Prime Minister's Office.
"Even when he spoke to the potential buyers, he was actually playing a double game," a senior police official said of Elovitch. "On the one hand, he put on an act for Netanyahu that he was trying to sale, but in reality he torpedoed the sale for each and every one of the potential buyers, setting a steep and unrealistic price so the deal falls through."
Police investigators say they have objective evidence concerning each of the potential buyers. In addition to the recordings he provided the police with, Yeshua also testified that he was aware of Elovitch's intentions to sabotage the sale.
A statement on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu said: "Predictably, since the rushed publication of the recommendations, we've witnessed a flood of false and systematic leaks meant to resuscitate the hollow recommendations against the prime minister and his wife. Since there is nothing to the case, there is an attempt to create the false impression as if there is different evidence and documents that were not presented to the prime minister in his questioning. It's all just hot air."