Two Netanyahu aides arrested on suspicion of bribing judge

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's adviser Nir Hefetz is suspected of having offered the job of attorney-general to former judge Hila Gerstl in 2015, in exchange for a commitment to close the criminal probes against Sara Netanyahu.

While the Prime Minister has not been named as a suspect in relation to the former corruption scandal involving an Israeli telecommunications company, he has been implicated by association after Israeli media reported he received favourable coverage for himself and his family while he was acting Minister of Communications from late 2014 to February previous year.

Gerstel did not report the alleged bribe attempt to the police but she shared it with a colleague Esther Hayut, who was then a justice on the Supreme Court and now is the President of the Supreme Court.

"Hefetz never made such a ludicrous offer and was never asked to do so, and we can not believe he would do such a thing on his own accord", Netanyahu said.

They were implicated in the investigation dubbed Case 4000.

Bezeq's controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch is also in custody, along with his wife, son and other top Bezeq executives.

"If you meet with Justice Gerstel in a closed room and ask her to close the investigation against Sara Netanyahu in exchange for her appointment as attorney general, what would her response be?"

A statement released on behalf of the Netanyahu family said Hefetz never made the "hallucinatory proposal".

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Netanyahu is not now suspected of dispatching Hefetz to extend the offer to the judge, Hadashot TV reported.

"He will try to emphasize to the Israeli public his value as someone who they have to thank for the strong economy and for Israel's standing in the world", said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A statement issued on Sunday by a personal spokesman to Netanyahu said all decisions related to Bezeq "were made according to recommendations of expert committees and expert officials".

Last week, in connection with two other cases, Israeli police recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, "opening the way for what could be the biggest challenge yet to the right-wing leader's political survival", says Reuters.

According to a police leak to Ynet, the prime minister's former spokesman Boaz Stambler, now director of the Government Advertising Bureau (LPM), has already testified regarding the thick ties between the PM's office and Walla regarding the news website's favorable coverage and pressures on Walla's staff to skew their reports.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, totaling NIS 1 million ($282,000). In return, police say Netanyahu had operated on Milchan's behalf on USA visa matters, legislated a tax break and connected him with an Indian businessman.

Meanwhile, police believe Netanyahu sought a secret deal for favorable coverage with the publisher of top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot, whose publisher Arnon Moses could also face bribery charges.

Netanyahu has long accused the Israeli press corps of being biased against him and has taken steps to counter it by promoting more sympathetic outlets.

Netanyahu's coalition partners will back him for now, as they wait for the attorney general to decide whether to indict him.

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