An eighth suspect has been arrested and questioned in a growing corruption probe that has implicated some of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest confidants.
Eli Kamir – an Israeli media adviser – was arrested Sunday morning and questioned “under caution,” Israeli police and the Israel Securities Authority said in a joint statement, meaning he is suspected of having committed a crime in the case, known as Case 4000.
Kamir was previously arrested in a fifth case involving those close to the Prime Minister, but he was released from that investigation only to be re-arrested a short time later.
In court documents, Kamir’s lawyer said his client had already given testimony in 2016 in relation to a case involving the Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq and that he was not arrested at the time. His lawyer insisted he had done nothing wrong and that the new case was a means of pressuring him in other investigations. Kamir was released to house arrest.
Case 4000 involves the relationship between the Ministry of Communication – run at the time from the Prime Minister’s office – and Bezeq. Investigators say the ministry illegally advanced Bezeq’s interests in exchange for favorable news coverage for the Israeli leader. The controlling shareholder of Bezeq, Shaul Elovitch, is a close friend of Netanyahu and owns online news site Walla! News.
One of the suspects in Case 4000, Shlomo Filber, turned state witness and agreed to work with prosecutors on the investigation. A member of Netanyahu’s inner circle, Filber was the Prime Minister’s right-hand man for years, also serving as his director-general in the Ministry of Communications.
Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect in Case 4000 and has proclaimed his innocence of all the allegations against him. Police say there is enough evidence to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases, known as Case 1000 and 2000.
Israel’s attorney general will now determine if the cases move forward.
The latest developments in Case 4000 come as a presiding judge and lawyer were removed for their handling of the investigation, after a series of text messages between the two emerged in which they casually discussed detention for suspects, according to the Attorney General’s Office and the Court Authority. The revelation prompted a furious backlash from some of Netanyahu’s political allies.
On Sunday night, Israel’s Channel 10 published WhatsApp messages between Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz and Israel Securities Authority Lawyer Eran Shacham-Shavit. The messages looked ahead to an upcoming remand hearing for suspects in Case 4000, in which members of Netanyahu’s inner circle are suspected of corruption.
In a series of messages, lawyer Shacham-Shavit says: “Stella (Handler) and Iris (Elovitch) - we will request tomorrow additional days, maybe 3 - you can definitely, definitely give 2 days.”
Poznansky-Katz responds: “You keep telling me everything and I have to do my best to look really, really surprised.”
After Israeli Channel 10 broadcast the messages, Poznansky-Katz asked to be removed from the case, according to the Court Authority.
The state ombudsman announced in a decision Tuesday that Poznansky-Katz would face a disciplinary hearing, but no criminal proceedings, a decision which was accepted by the Minister of Justice.
Shacham-Shavit was also removed from the case, according to the Attorney General’s Office, asking to take immediate vacation. An investigation is underway and he will no longer handle Case 4000.
Oded Svorai, a lawyer for Shaham-Shavit, defended his client’s actions.
“Shaham-Shavat is a professional, fair, and ethical lawyer who performs his work with dedication and full honesty. His entire conduct with Justice Poznansky-Katz was topical and within the accepted and legitimate framework of an investigating authority with a detention judge,” Svorai said.
He added that Shaham-Shavit will speak with the ombudsman to bring the internal investigation to a quick conclusion.
Ofir Strashnov, a lawyer for Poznansky-Katz, defended the judge, saying, “In this case, as well as in all the detention proceedings in which she deliberated, Judge Poznansky-Katz carefully considered every request for detention, and her decisions were always based on pure legal considerations, without any bias or prejudice, while giving priority and reverence to human dignity and liberty.”
A new judge was put in charge of Case 4000 and, after examining all the evidence relating to detention of the suspects, ruled that key suspects would remain in custody.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said: “The incident described is against the basic principles of the prosecution.”
M.K. David Amsalem, a fierce defender of Netanyahu from the Prime Minister’s Likud party, slammed the handling of the case.
On Israel’s Army Radio, Amsalmen said: “Something is happening here in the last few years. In the last two years, the police are hunting down the Prime Minister obsessively – obsessively, I say! – in order to topple him. What’s not clear?”
Netanyahu has decried the investigations as a media-fueled “witch hunt.”
This story has been updated to reflect new developments.