Newly released minutes of June 2015 Communications Ministry meeting show regulators signed off on controversial Bezeq-Yes merger deal only after drawn-out process spanning a decade.
By Akiva Bigman, Israel Hayom via JNS.org
A newly unearthed document could undermine a key premise in a corruption case in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considered suspect.
Case 4000 centers on an alleged conflict of interest involving Netanyahu, Bezeq and the Walla news website, which Bezeq owns. The police allege that Bezeq’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, ensured positive coverage of the Netanyahu family on Walla in exchange for the prime minister promoting government regulations favorable to Bezeq that would cement the telecom giant’s market share and be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the corporation.
Police investigators say Netanyahu went out of his way to push for regulation that allowed Bezeq to merge with Yes, a provider of satellite TV, as part of the illicit deal with Elovitch. Investigators say this was clearly a quid pro quo because Netanyahu used his clout to override the objections among various officials in the Communications Ministry and expedited the approval process in a way that gave Elovitch favorable treatment.
However, a new document from the minutes of a meeting held by the Communications Ministry’s Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council on June 23, 2015 shows that the merger was approved without any objections and only after the proper procedures were followed.
According to the minutes, which were released after a freedom of information request by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, shows that that council chairwoman asked, “Who is in favor of the merger?” and then rules, “The merger is approved unanimously.”
The minutes also show that three senior officials from the ministry who participated in the meeting did not voice any objection to the merger.
The council signed off on the merger, and only then did Netanyahu, as the newly appointed communication minister, sign off on the merger.
In fact, the council meeting was only the final step in a drawn-out regulatory process. Deliberations on the possible merger go back as early as 2004 and in March 2014, more than a year before Netanyahu became communications minister, the Israel Antitrust Authority gave it a green light.
Netanyahu became communications minister in May 2015, about a month before the ministry’s regulatory council approved the merger. This means that he only had about a month in which he was in a position of influence in the decade-long approval process.