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Netanyahu questioned again in telecoms case, sees it 'collapsing'

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli police questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday over a case involving the country’s largest telecoms firm, one of three corruption investigations in which he has been named as a suspect.

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He has denied wrongdoing in all three.

Authorities allege Netanyahu awarded regulatory favours to Bezeq Telecom Israel BEZQ.TA in return for more positive coverage of him and his wife on a news website owned by the company.

Netanyahu, a conservative serving his fourth term as premier, said through a spokesman after around four hours of questioning that he was certain the probe, known as Case 4000, “has finally collapsed”.

His spokesman said that an overview of the website’s reporting on the prime minister during the period in question showed that it had “remained negative ... changing not a whit”.

Netanyahu has been questioned over the allegation several times.

He has sought to cast all three of the cases, and media coverage of them, as a politically motivated witch-hunt.

In the second investigation, known as Case 1000, he is suspected of bribery over gifts, which police say were worth nearly $300,000 (£235,652), from wealthy businessmen.

The third, Case 2000, involves an alleged plot to win positive coverage in Israel’s biggest newspaper by offering to take measures to curtail the circulation of a rival daily.

Police have recommended that Netanyahu be charged with bribery in both.

The final decision about whether to prosecute him rests with the attorney general. That could be months away, and could in theory impinge on a national election scheduled for 2019.

Polls indicate strong support for a fifth term for Netanyahu, but the probes have helped rally the centre-left opposition.

As police investigators arrived at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, their car was thronged by anti-Netanyahu demonstrators who had unfurled a huge banner reading “Crime Minister”.

Police and the Israel Securities Agency said in a joint statement after Friday’s questioning that it had been conducted as part of “the effort against financial crime”. They did not elaborate on the case.

Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Andrew Roche and John Stonestreet