Israeli police have named the two close associates of Benjamin Netanyahu who have been arrested for their suspected role in a wide-ranging corruption probe that has added to the suspicions around the long-time Israeli leader, already accused of bribery in two separate cases.
With an initial gag order lifted, police identified the pair as Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu spokesman, and Shlomo Filber, the former director of the communications ministry under Netanyahu.
The two are suspected of promoting regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel’s Bezeq telecommunications company in return for favourable coverage of Netanyahu on a popular subsidiary news site.
Netanyahu, who held the communications portfolio until last year, has not yet been named as a suspect in the case but is expected to be questioned.
Bezeq’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, is also in custody, along with his wife, son and other top Bezeq executives. Former journalists at the Walla news site have said they were pressured to refrain from negative reporting of Netanyahu.
The prime minister denies any wrongdoing and says the accusations are part of a wider witch hunt against him by a hostile media.
The new investigation comes days after police announced there was sufficient evidence to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases.
He is accused of receiving lavish gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. In return, police say Netanyahu had operated on Milchan’s behalf on US visa matters, introduced a tax break and connected him with an Indian businessman.
In the second case, Netanyahu is accused of offering a newspaper publisher legislation that would weaken his paper’s main rival in return for more favourable coverage.
Netanyahu has long accused the Israeli press of being biased against him.