Senior officials at Israeli media conglomerate Bezeq have been detained as part of a new joint investigation. Media reports suggest the case centers on concessions in return for positive coverage of the prime minister.
The arrests came just days after police said there were grounds to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of public trust. Netanyahu denies the charges.
The Israeli Security Authority (ISA), a market watchdog, is reported to have uncovered new details in its ongoing investigation into the Bezeq company, over allegations of fraud and financial reporting violations. Bezeq's former chairman was arrested in 2017.
Although the police statement on Sunday gave no details, media reports suggest the latest allegations against Bezeq are that it received benefits in exchange for enabling favorable media coverage of Netanyahu.
A Tel Aviv judge issued an order preventing the suspects being identified by name.
Company under pressure
Bezeq issued a statement to the stock exchange saying it had no additional information on the new probe. A spokesman for Bezeq declined further comment.
Last year the ISA investigated allegations that a former Bezeq chairman interfered in a 2015 merger between Bezeq and its TV unit YES for personal financial gain.
Polish-born Israeli businessman Shaul Elovitch is the owner of the Eurocom Group, one of the largest private holding groups in Israel, which controls Bezeq as an indirect subsidiary. He has denied any wrongdoing and so far no charges have been filed against him. He is believed to be under pressure to sell Eurocom, which is reported to be nearly 1 billion shekels ($282 million) in debt.
Elovitch stepped down as chairman at the outset of the investigation last June and was temporarily replaced by David Granot.
Israeli protesters call on Netanyahu to resign in the wake of police recommendations that he be indicted for corruption
In November the ISA presented evidence to prosecutors in Tel Aviv, recommending criminal charges against senior executives at Bezeq.
"Due to evidence the securities authority uncovered in the Bezeq affair that raised suspicions of additional crimes, this morning a new joint investigation was opened ... in which a number of suspects were arrested, including senior executives in the Bezeq group," according to a joint statement from the ISA and state prosecutors.
Israeli media report that the new allegations center around suspicions that Bezeq received benefits in exchange for favorable coverage of Netanyahu on Walla, an Israeli internet company based in Tel Aviv that is controlled by Eurocom.
"This is another false allegation against the prime minister," a spokesman for Netanyahu said. "The prime minister did not act in favor of Elovitch and Bezeq, not for favorable coverage or anything else."
This past week police recommended Netanyahu be charged with bribery in two separate corruption probes. One involves receiving gifts from businessmen, while the second alleges he gave Arnon Mozes, the editor of Israel's biggest-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot, special treatment in exchange for positive coverage.
The attorney general now has to decide whether to bring charges against Netanyahu, a decision that could take several months. Netanyahu maintains he did nothing wrong in either case.
bik/jm (Reuters, AFP)