For the first time, prosecutors directly linked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to what is known as Case 4000, alleging he gave regulatory benefits worth up to 1 billion shekels (approximately $280 million) to his friend in exchange for favorable media coverage.
Case 4000 is one of five investigations targeting the Prime Minister and members of his inner circle. Netanyahu has been named as a suspect in two cases, though not in Case 4000. He has denied any wrong doing in those cases.
In an appeals hearing on Tuesday for two key suspects in the case, prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh said, "It's about a severe affair of a suspicion of giving and receiving bribes, about giving "favorable" coverage, if I can use a gentle word, because the word favorable misses the reality."
"[It's] harnessing a leading website for the purpose of beneficiary coverage and editing, in return for regulatory benefits on behalf of the Communications Ministry, the Minister of Communications, the Communications Ministry Director-General, which are worth to Eurocom between 680 million cash to one billion shekels, including conditional benefits."
Eurocom Group is a company owned by Shaul Elovitch, Netanyahu's friend, and one of the main suspects in Case 4000.
Elovitch is the controlling shareholder of telecommunications firm Bezeq, which also owns online news site Walla! News, where prosecutors say Netanyahu was seeking favorable coverage. Elovitch's remand was extended in this case, as was that of Nir Hefetz, who was the Netanyahu family spokesman for many years. Prosecutors argued that if the men were freed, they would be able to work together against the investigation. The Judge agreed.
At the time in question, Netanyahu was the Minister of Communications. Shlomo Filber, his long-time confidant who served under him as Director-General of the Communications Ministry, has turned state's witness, agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors in the investigation.
Elovitch and Hefetz are two of eight suspects who have been arrested in this growing investigation. Lawyers for the two denied any wrongdoing.
Netanyahu is expected to be questioned over Case 4000 later this week.
Responding on Facebook, Netanyahu dismissed the allegation completely.
"After they suggested that the Prime Minister smoked cigars worth a million shekels, a new balloon has arrived: favors of a billion shekels. However, all of the actions were made in a practical manner on a basis of recommendations from the professional echelon, professional committees, and legal consultants," he posted.
"Not a million, not a billion, not a trillion, and not anything," he added.