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Associates of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu arrested in corruption case

By Ed Adamczyk
Associates of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu arrested in corruption case
At a security conference Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows a part of what he said was an Iranian drone missile shot down by the Israel Air Force this month. He made no mention of the arrests of seven associates in an influence-trading case in Israel. Photo by MSC/Preiss/EPA-EFE

Feb. 19 (UPI) -- As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces criminal charges of his own, members of his inner political circle have been arrested on suspicion they intervened with regulators.

Police arrested seven people on corruption charges Sunday, days after they recommended to Israel's attorney general that Netanyahu should be indicted on separate charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases.

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Close associates of Netanyahu, and senior figures of Bezeq Telecommunications Co., were arrested and questioned on Sunday, although a gag order prevented release of their names and details of the case.

New evidence suggests that two of the prime minster's associates and perhaps Netanyahu himself helped Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch by intervening with government media regulators. Authorities said Elovitch offered Netanyahu favorable treatment in news coverage from two media platforms he owns -- the Walla! News Portal and Bezeq.

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As new evidence emerged, it was transferred from an investigation by the Israel Securities Authority to a joint police-ISA probe that indicates the discovery of bribery and fraud offenses, which are the purview of the police.

Although Netanyahu was not named as a suspect over the weekend, The Jerusalem Post reported Monday the prime minister will be questioned "under caution," a term used to describe suspects in criminal cases.

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Prosecutors say Netanyahu had offered political favors to associates.

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Yinon Magal, former editor in-chief of Walla!, was ordered Sunday to testify in the case. He told Army Radio that, as editor in 2013 and 2014, there had been pressure to provide favorable coverage of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. He later said "pressure was applied not only regarding Netanyahu but from all kinds of political forces."

Magal was elected to the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, in 2015 but resigned following a sexual harassment scandal.

Netanyahu's office offered several statements Sunday, one saying "the prime minister did not act in the benefit of Elovich and Bezeq -- not for favorable coverage and not for anything else." A later statement said prior investigations of corruptions were found to "have no air."

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At a security conference in Germany over the weekend, Netanyahu made no reference to the arrests. Sunday, he displayed what he said was part of an Iranian drone missile that was shot down earlier this month by the Israeli Air Force.

Speaking directly to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the audience, Netanyahu said, "Do you recognize it? You should, it's yours. Don't test us."

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