Israeli police again question Netanyahu on corruption allegations

Israeli police have recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases. (AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Israeli police again question Netanyahu on corruption allegations

  • Two police vehicles arrived on Friday at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence
  • Media reported that Netanyahu is to be questioned over a corruption case involving Israel’s telecom giant

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went through a new round of questioning on Friday, police said, amid graft allegations that have threatened to topple him.
The premier was questioned at his official residence in the context of investigations by the national economic crimes unit, a police statement in Hebrew said.
It gave no further details.
Investigators arrived at the premier’s Jerusalem residence in the morning to interview him over allegations of corruption involving local telecoms giant Bezeq and its largest shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, according to Israeli media reports.
It was the 12th time Netanyahu has been questioned in various cases, either as a suspect or a witness.
In the Bezeq case, Netanyahu is alleged to have sought favorable coverage from another Elovitch company, the Walla news site, in exchange for government policies that could have benefited the mogul’s interests to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
After a previous round of questioning in July, Netanyahu’s office said there was no such trade-off.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu has never made a deal with Elovitch in exchange for supportive coverage,” it said, adding that the Walla site had consistently covered the premier “in a hostile manner.”
Elovitch was arrested in February along with six other people including Nir Hefetz, a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family.
In addition to the premiership, Netanyahu also held the communications portfolio between November 2014 and February 2017, covering the run-up to the March 2015 elections, when he is alleged to have made the deal with Elovitch.
Netanyahu was interrogated for more than five hours in July, reportedly over the same affair.
In a separate case, his wife Sara was charged in June with misusing state funds to buy catered meals costing $100,000 (85,000 euros) by falsely declaring there were no cooks available at the premier’s official residence.
In February, police recommended the premier be indicted in two cases, though the attorney general has yet to decide whether to do so.
Netanyahu, prime minister for around 12 years in total, has maintained his innocence in all of the cases, talking of a “witch hunt” and saying he was determined to stay in his job.
He would not be legally obliged to resign if charged.
So far his coalition partners have stood by him despite the allegations, but the investigations have gradually ratcheted up speculation over whether he will eventually be forced from office.


With new Egypt capital being built, what becomes of Cairo?

Updated 54 min 58 sec ago
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With new Egypt capital being built, what becomes of Cairo?

  • The new capital — a proper name has yet to be found — is the $45 billion brainchild of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi
  • ‘Historical Cairo must remain the political capital of Egypt’

CAIRO: Billboards across Cairo advertise luxury homes with “breathtaking” views in compounds with names like “La Verde” or “Vinci” in Egypt’s new capital that is under construction in the desert, miles from the Nile-side city which has been the seat of power for more than 1,000 years.
Often, what lies behind the billboards are Cairo’s most overcrowded neighborhoods, with shoddily built homes and dirt roads frequently inundated with sewage water.
A city of some 20 million people combining charm and squalor, Cairo may soon witness an exodus by well-heeled residents, state employees and foreign embassies to the New Administrative Capital, as the vast project in the desert is provisionally known. It will be the latest phase in the flight of the rich, many of whom have already moved to gated communities in new suburbs, leaving the old Cairo in neglect and decay.
The new capital — a proper name has yet to be found — is the $45 billion brainchild of general-turned-president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the biggest of the mega-projects he launched since taking office in 2014. He contends the projects, ranging from new roads and housing complexes to a Suez Canal expansion, attract investors and create jobs.
Senior officials boastfully compare what has been built under El-Sisi to monuments like the Giza Pyramids.
“History will do justice to this generation of Egyptians and our grandsons will remember its achievement, a wave of construction unprecedented in modern-day Egypt,” Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly, also the housing minister, proclaimed.
Critics call the new capital a vanity project, arguing its cost could have been better put to rebuilding the wrecked economy and refurbishing Cairo.
They also see it as evidence of El-Sisi’s authoritarianism, launching a multibillion-dollar plan with little debate. El-Sisi often lashes out at those who question him, telling Egyptians to listen only to him and saying he’s answerable to God alone. He often says Egypt’s resources are limited — leading some Egyptians, struggling amid skyrocketing prices, to wonder why so much is spent on questionable projects.
“There is something very wrong with the order of priorities,” said political analyst Hassan Nafaa. “Maybe El-Sisi wants to go down in history as the leader who built the new capital, but if Egyptians don’t see an improvement in their living conditions and services, he will be remembered as the president who destroyed what is left of the middle class.”
The government argues that Cairo is already bursting at the seams and will grow to 40 million by 2050.
The new city is being built on 170,000 acres about 28 miles east of Cairo and nearly twice its size. Construction began in 2016, and the first of its forecast 6.5 million residents are scheduled to move there next year.
The city will house the presidency, Cabinet, parliament and ministries. Planners promise a 21-mile-long public park, an airport, an opera house, a sports complex and 20 skyscrapers, including Africa’s highest, at 345 meters.
Madbouly denied the new city will only attract the well-off, saying it is “for all Egyptians.”
Prices tell a different story. The smallest apartment there — 120 square meters — is expected to cost 1.3 million Egyptian pounds ($73,000), out of reach for a mid-level bureaucrat, who may make the equivalent of about $4,800 a year.
“Those targeted to live in the new capital constitute a very, very limited segment of society,” said Nafaa.
Ironically, the new capital could one day be overwhelmed by the old, as illegal construction expands. That has often been the way Cairo has evolved, with the rich moving out, only to move again as the city swells, adding layer after layer.
“Throughout the history of Cairo, the ruling elite and the rich have failed to completely isolate themselves from the rest of the population,” said novelist Hamdy Abu Golayyel, who authored a book about the city called “Cairo, Streets and Stories.” It will take draconian laws to keep the new city distinct, he said.
No one knows how Cairo will be impacted by a new capital and the shift of the seat of power outside of the city for the first time since the Muslim conquest in the 7th Century.
Many government buildings in Cairo, for example, are palaces and mansions confiscated by the socialist government of the 1950s and 1960s. In theory, they could be renovated and turned into museums or hotels, proponents argue. But then, many such empty architectural treasures are already left to fall apart or even torn down.
The government is renovating some of Cairo’s illegally built neighborhoods. But in one case, it razed a run-down district and moved out residents after compensating them to make way for a high-end district.
Amar Ali Hassan, a sociopolitical expert, believes Cairo’s woes will only deepen.
“It could be neglected, become estranged and left to die a slow death,” he said.
Sameh Abdallah Alayli, an urban planning expert, wrote in the Al-Shorouk newspaper that the idea of a new capital was unacceptable, construction should be halted and the focus put back on overhauling the ancient city.
“Historical Cairo must remain the political capital of Egypt,” he wrote.