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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Israeli police question Netanyahu for five hours over telecoms corruption case

Two aides have already been arrested on suspicion of promoting regulation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Bezeq telecom company

Israeli policemen arrive at the entrance to the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 2, 2018. The officers questioned the prime minister for several hours in connection with corruption allegations. Ahikam Seri / AFP
Israeli policemen arrive at the entrance to the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 2, 2018. The officers questioned the prime minister for several hours in connection with corruption allegations. Ahikam Seri / AFP

Israeli police questioned Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife on Friday as part of an investigation into a corruption case involving the country's telecom giant, casting a shadow on the prime minister's upcoming visit to Washington.

Police investigators entered Mr Netanyahu's residence Friday morning and left about five hours later. His wife, Sara, was questioned at another location at the same time as the prime minister.

Police later issued a statement saying the couple "were questioned for a number of hours as part of an investigation" by police and the Israel Securities Authority.

Last month, two Netanyahu confidants were arrested on suspicion of promoting regulation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Bezeq telecom company. In return, Bezeq's news site, Walla, allegedly provided positive Netanyahu coverage.

It is the first time that Mr Netanyahu, who as prime minister also held the communications portfolio until last year, is being questioned over the affair, known as Case 4000.

The development comes ahead of the prime minister's visit to Washington where he is to meet with President Donald Trump and speak before the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC next week.

Police have recommended indicting Mr Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases.

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Mr Netanyahu is accused of accepting nearly $300,000 (Dh1.1m) in lavish gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. In return, police say Mr Netanyahu operated on Mr Milchan's behalf on US visa matters, legislated a tax break and connected him with an Indian businessman.

In the other case, Mr Netanyahu is accused of offering a newspaper publisher legislation that would weaken his paper's main rival in return for more favourable coverage. Mr Netanyahu reportedly was recorded asking Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Yediot Ahronot, for positive coverage in exchange for helping to weaken Israel Hayom, a free pro-Netanyahu newspaper that had cut into Yediot's business.

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed the accusations as a witch hunt orchestrated by a hostile media.

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