Israeli authorities have taken into custody the editors of the country’s two leading newspapers in connection with a year-old case alleging that the papers engaged in wiretapping in an effort to boost circulation.
Allegation surfaced last year that senior executives from Ma’ariv and Yediot Achronot had been involved in the illegal wiretapping of the offices of each other and other journalists, as well those of public and political figures.
Police originally investigated two private detectives who have since been indicted for wiretapping the police, fax and cellular phone lines of hundreds of people, including President Ezer Weizman and officials with Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service.
The police investigation gradually turned to executives and staff at the two newspapers.
On Saturday morning, police arrested Ofer Nimrodi, the editor in chief of Ma’ariv, at Ben-Gurion Airport. The police also confiscated documents from Nimrodi’s home and office. Five other Ma’ariv employees, including the paper’s security officer, were called in for questioning. Nimrodi, who has been questioned by police before, faced allegations of illegally hiring the two private investigators to carry out illegal wiretaps and of obstructing justice.
Nimrodi’s arrest came after one of the indicted private investigators decided to cooperate with the government.
On Monday, police also called in for questioning the top editors of Yediot Achronot, Israel’s largest-selling newspaper. Editor Moshe Vardi and Arnon Moses, managing editor, were questioned by police regarding allegations that they had ordered phone taps on the phones of the rival Ma’ariv newspaper. Police also conducted searches at the offices of the newspaper. Moses was released Tuesday, but was ordered to return for further questioning. Vardi remained in custody, as did Ma’ariv’s Nimrodi.
Ma’ariv and Yediot reportedly account for a combined three-fourths of Israel’s daily newspaper market. Yediot has a daily circulation estimated at 300,000; Ma’ariv has about 150,000. Police Minister Moshe Shahal and Police Commissioner Assaf Hefetz said this week that the lengthy investigation is nearing its end.