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The Israeli right-wing leader tried to negotiate with the owner of a critical and highly circulated newspaper to get positive coverage.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under police investigation for suspected corruption, was caught on tape negotiating mutual benefits with an arch enemy, the owner of one of Israel’s largest-selling newspapers, Israeli media reported Sunday.
Channel Two television said the right-wing leader had offered to limit the circulation of Israel Hayom, a free, pro-Netanyahu daily owned and published by U.S. billionaire and Republican party donor Sheldon Adelson, if the Yedioth Ahronoth daily owner Noni Mozes gave the prime minister more favorable coverage.
Steps to cut Israel Hayom’s market-leading circulation could have financial benefits for Mozes, whose newspaper’s advertising revenues have been hit by its free competitor. The left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz said the conversation took place a few months ago.
The revelation that Netanyahu and Mozes would have a dialogue was received with shock in Israel because Netanyahu has openly accused Mozes and his newspaper of trying to overthrow his leadership through skewed coverage, an allegation he denies.
Last week Netanyahu was questioned twice by police in two different corruption cases. The first involved receiving gifts — including expensive cigars and champagne from businessmen — the police and justice ministry said. Netanyahu’s lawyer said such presents from friends were not illegal.
While police did not comment on the second case regarding the newspaper reported by Channel Two, Israeli media outlets described it as “an earthquake” that could have implications for Netanyahu’s political future.
Just hours before the report, Netanyahu again said the media in the country was attacking him personally. “This is wrong, incessant pressure from the media on law enforcement. They release balloons and the hot air comes out of them time after time. That will be the case here too,” Netanyahu told Likud ministers earlier Sunday.
In the past few weeks, Netanyahu has lashed out at journalists who have published critical reports about his administration and his alleged ties with wealthy businesspeople.
As for the other case, Israeli media have reported that police questioned the conservative leader about receiving gifts from Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan over the past few years.
Netanyahu, who is leading the most right-wing government in the country’s history, will become Israel’s longest-serving leader if he stays in office until the end of 2018.
He and his spouse Sara have faced several scandals over the years, including investigations into the misuse of state funds. They have denied any wrongdoing.
While most corruption cases against previous Israeli leaders did not yield indictments, Ehud Olmert, who held office from 2006 to 2009, is currently serving 18 months in prison after being convicted of breach of trust and bribery in 2014.