The political scandal swirling around Benjamin Netanyahu intensified on Sunday after it was reported he had been caught on tape offering financial incentives to a newspaper publisher in return for better coverage.
The Israeli prime minister spent eight hours last week being questioned by police about two separate allegations of criminal wrongdoing.
One case involves allegations that Netanyahu illegally accepted cigars, suits and holidays from wealthy businessmen.
But the second and potentially more serious investigation, known as “Case 2000”, is said to involved a direct quid-pro-quo between the prime minister and a major business figure.
The Haaretz newspaper reported Sunday that the business figure was Arnon Mozes, a media tycoon, who publishes the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
Haaretz reported that Netanyahu was caught on tape in a secret conversation with Mozes last year.
The prime minister allegedly offered to scale back the circulation of a free newspaper owned by one of his political allies, which had been undercutting the sales of Mozes’s Yedioth Ahronoth.
In return, Netanyahu allegedly asked for more sympathetic coverage. He was reportedly especially worried about stories relating to his son Yair, who is sometimes referred to as “Israel’s Prince Harry”.
It is not clear if any deal was reached between the two men. The recording, which was reportedly made by one of Netanyahu’s aides, is in the hands of prosecutors, according to Haaretz.
Yedioth Ahronoth has been deeply critical of Netanyahu in the past. The newspaper did not respond to the allegations that its publisher was involved in talks with the prime minister.
Netanyahu has firmly denied any wrongdoing and his lawyer said he had committed “no shred of a criminal act”.
Netanyahu’s political career has twice survived criminal investigations. In 1997 and in 2000 police recommended that he face charges but in both cases prosecutors decided not to indict him.
The prime minister has been defiant in the face of the current investigation and his allies insisted that he would not resign.
David Bitan, an Israeli MP and close associate of Netanyahu, said the Israeli leader would not resign even if was charged with a crime.
Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, is in prison after being convicted of corruption.