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Ex-Netanyahu aide released and put under house arrest

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Tel Aviv (AFP)

A former aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a top businessman were released and put under house arrest Sunday after 14 days in custody over suspicions of fraud involving the premier, police said.

Tel Aviv magistrates court released Nir Hefetz, a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family, and Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of telecoms group Bezeq, after complex questioning of the two men, Netanyahu, his wife and other suspects.

Police suspect Elovitch's business was given regulatory breaks in return for Netanyahu receiving positive coverage on Walla!, a news website he owns.

Hefetz is alleged to have acted as a messenger between Netanyahu, Bezeq and Walla! officials.

He is also suspected of trying to bribe a retired judge to block a probe into the prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu, over alleged misuse of public funds.

Police are not divulging details of the probe but Israeli media said that police and Securities Authority investigators on Friday carried out a carefully orchestrated simultaneous interrogation of six suspects at different locations to prevent them coordinating their testimonies.

Top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot said while Netanyahu was being questioned for five hours at his official Jerusalem residence, Sara was being grilled at national fraud squad headquarters near Tel Aviv.

Elsewhere in the same police building, it said, Hefetz and Elovitch were under interrogation, along with Elovitch's wife Iris and a former senior communications ministry official, whose name is subject to a court gag order.

All were placed in separate rooms, it said.

"Detectives who were sitting in a forward command post continually received updates in real time from the six separate interrogations and steered the complex operation," the paper added.

"They fed questions to the detectives in the interview rooms and tried to find holes in the answers that were received."

Friday's session with Netanyahu was the eighth time since January 2017 that the right-wing premier had been questioned over a string of corruption allegations that threaten to end his long tenure.

It came after police last month said they had sufficient evident for his indictment for graft, fraud and breach of trust in two other cases.

Netanyahu, 68, has denied all charges and rejected talk of stepping down. He is due to meet US President Donald Trump, perhaps his closest international ally, at the White House on Monday.

In one case, Netanyahu and family members are suspected of receiving one million shekels ($285,000, 230,000 euros) in gifts, including luxury cigars, champagne and jewellery, from wealthy figures in exchange for financial or personal favours.

In the other case, investigators suspect the premier of trying to reach an agreement with the owner of Yediot Aharonot newspaper for more favourable coverage.

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