In a pre-emptive strike, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed media "pressure" for a new police investigation, less than a week after police said they had enough evidence to indict the Israeli leader for corruption in two separate cases.
In a statement issued Sunday night, Netanyahu said, "The media witch hunt continues with all its might. After the air came out of Case 1000 and Case 2000 and after it became clear that there is absolutely no air in Case 3000, the media put tremendous pressure to inflate another balloon -- [Case] 4000. Also from this [case], all the air will come out."
The new investigation, locally called Case 4000, also known as the Bezeq affair, is the latest investigation reaching the top levels of the Israeli government. The Israeli Police announced the new investigation into Israeli telecommunications firm Bezeq on Sunday morning, working with the Israel Securities Authority and Lahav 433, a police unit specializing in corruption investigations.
Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect in this new investigation.
A police statement said that several suspects in the case had been arrested, but police did not provide further details. Other details of the investigation remained under gag order until Tuesday.
The Israel Securities Authority began openly investigating Bezeq in June 2017, after an initial "covert" investigation. In early November, the authority concluded its investigation, stating there is an "alleged evidentiary basis" for the charges of fraud, breach of trust, obstruction of justice, and more.
The Israel Securities Authority would not name specific suspects, but a statement issued in November said the investigation had involved senior employees at telecommunications firm Bezeq, cable company Yes, and state employees.
The authority said senior employees of Yes and Bezeq committed fraudulent receipt of funds, intended to benefit the owner of Bezeq a sum of 170 million shekels (approximately $48 million).
The authority says the director-general of the Ministry of Communication, along with other officials and Bezeq employees, illegally advanced the interests of Bezeq by systematically transferring classified documents. Netanyahu was minister of communication during this time.
In his Sunday night statement, Netanyahu insisted he'd done nothing wrong. "All of the decisions that were made relating to Bezeq were made in consideration of professional committees and experts."
When the Israel Securities Authority released its statement in November, a lawyer for Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, told the Times of Israel, "The correct thing to do is to be patient and wait for the truth to come to light," while insisting that no crime had been committed. At the time, a spokesman for Bezeq declined to comment.
The latest investigation increases pressure on the embattled Prime Minister, who is facing two other corruption investigations and a third that has entangled many in his inner circle.
Key coalition partners have stood by Netanyahu, but one issued a stinging rebuke that Netanyahu was "not living up to the standard of his office." Another investigation could make it difficult to continue backing the Prime Minister, especially if he is named a suspect.
Last week, police said they had enough evidence to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in two separate cases, known as 1000 and 2000.
Case 1000 and 2000 refer to the two graft probes where police have said they have evidence for an indictment.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of having received gifts from businessmen overseas totaling 1 million shekels (approximately $280,000), including cigars, champagne, jewelry and more, from 2007 through 2016.
In Case 2000, police say Netanyahu discussed "bartering" with Arnon "Noni" Mozes, the owner of one of Israel's leading newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth, which is regularly critical of the Prime Minister.
In exchange for more favorable coverage, Netanyahu promised to hamper the circulation of a rival newspaper, in recordings obtained by police.
Both Netanyahu and Mozes have said these were not serious discussions; rather, they each claim they were trying to expose the other's lack of trustworthiness. Police say there is enough evidence to indict Mozes on charges of offering bribes.
In a statement to Israeli media, a lawyer for Mozes said, "The cases against him will be closed."
Case 3000, known as the submarines affair, involves the multimillion-dollar purchase of German submarines. Many in Netanyahu's inner circle have become entangled in the case, but the Prime Minister has not been named as a suspect.
Israeli Police Chief Roni Alsheich said Netanyahu would be questioned soon as the investigation continues, though he has not been named as a suspect in Case 3000.