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Police suspect Netanyahu associate of trying to bribe judge

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Israeli police on Tuesday said they suspect a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of offering a sitting judge a top posting in exchange for dropping a corruption case against Netanyahu’s wife.

The development marks the latest scandal to engulf the beleaguered Israeli leader’s inner circle. Netanyahu already stands accused of bribery in two other cases.

Nir Hefetz, a former spokesman of the Netanyahu family, is suspected of suggesting to Judge Hila Gerstel that she could be appointed attorney general if she killed a pending case against Sara Netanyahu’s excessive household spending.

The offer never materialized.

Earlier, police named Hefetz as one of two Netanyahu associates under arrest for their suspected role in a separate wide-ranging corruption probe.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and says the latest charges against him were merely a continuation of a wider media orchestrated witch hunt against him and his family.

“Nir Hefetz never presented this ludicrous offer to the prime minister and his wife, he was never asked by them to make such an offer and we can’t imagine that Hefetz would even imagine such a thing,” Netanyahu said.

Earlier Tuesday, with an initial gag order lifted, police identified Hefetz and Shlomo Filber, the former director of the communications ministry under Netanyahu, as the two suspects in promoting regulation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel’s Bezeq telecom company, in return for favorable coverage of Netanyahu in a highly popular subsidiary news site.

Netanyahu, who held the communications portfolio until last year, has not yet been named as a suspect in the case but is expected to be questioned.

Bezeq’s controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch is also in custody, along with his wife, son and other top Bezeq executives. Former journalists at the Walla news site have attested to being pressured to refrain from negative reporting of Netanyahu.

The new probe comes days after police announced there was sufficient evidence to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases.

Netanyahu is accused of receiving lavish gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. In return, police say Netanyahu had operated on Milchan’s behalf on U.S. visa matters, legislated a tax break and connected him with an Indian businessman.

In the second case, Netanyahu is accused of offering a newspaper publisher legislation that would weaken his paper’s main rival in return for more favorable coverage.

Netanyahu has long accused the Israeli press corps of being biased against him and has taken steps to counter it by promoting more sympathetic outlets to him.

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Nikola founder Trevor Milton forfeits $166 million in stock and gets to keep $3.1 billion under separation deal

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Stock sell-off accelerates and is expected to get worse before it gets better

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Here’s what it’s doing to tackle it

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A man with her protective face mask walks in Vellaces neighborhood after new restrictions came into force as Spain sees record daily coronavirus (Covid-19) cases, in Madrid, Spain on September 21, 2020. (Photo by Burak

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

LONDON — There can be no doubt now that Europe is facing the much-feared “second wave” of coronavirus cases, after a lull in new infections in summer when severe restrictions on public life helped stop the spread of the virus.

Now, as cases rise rapidly in the region, various European nations are taking action in an effort to stop the surge in infections and prevent a significant rise in fatalities.

To date, there have been almost 2.9 million confirmed cases of the virus in Europe and over 186,000 people have died, data from the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

Despite the risks, leaders in the region are reluctant to impose nationwide lockdowns again, given the economic and societal implications of such moves, and are now looking at more targeted, localized measures.

Here’s a snapshot of what Europe’s biggest economies are doing to stop the spread of the virus:

Spain

Spain has recorded 671,468 infections — the highest number in Europe, and 30,663 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. On Monday, it reported more than 30,000 new cases since Friday, Reuters reported.

Madrid has become a virus hotspot, with almost 800 new cases reported Monday. The surge has prompted the president of the city’s regional government to request help from the army to help battle the rise and parts of the capital have been put in lockdown, prompting protests.

On Monday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said data showed that, in Madrid, “the infection rate is double the national level, the numbers of intensive care beds in use is three times the national level.” He signaled more stringent measures could be introduced in the city, saying it “demands its own plan,” El Pais reported

France

France has the second-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Europe after Spain, with 496,974 infections to date and 31,346 deaths, JHU data notes. 

France reported 5,298 further cases on Monday from the previous day, a lower daily count due to the weekend data lag. Last Friday, France reported 13,215 new infections, its highest daily number since the start of the pandemic.

As a result of surging cases, the city of Lyon (France’s third-largest city) has introduced tighter restrictions, limiting public gatherings and prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol outdoors after 8pm, France 24 reported Monday. Visits to nursing home residents will also be restricted to two per week. Similar restrictions have already been imposed in other cities including Marseille and Bordeaux.

UK

The U.K. has also seen a dramatic rise in coronavirus cases over recent days, prompting the government to introduce localized lockdown measures in parts of northern England and more national restrictions. To date, the country has recorded just over 400,000 coronavirus cases and 41,877 deaths, according to the JHU.

On Monday, the government announced that bars and restaurants must close at 10 p.m. Groups of more than six people are also not allowed to meet.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will address the nation at 8 p.m. local time Tuesday evening and is expected to announce further measures. He is also said to be considering a “mini” lockdown of two weeks to try to act as a “circuit-breaker” in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

The government’s chief medical and scientific advisors warned on Monday that, without action, the U.K. could see up to 50,000 new coronavirus cases per day by mid-October, which could lead to 200-plus deaths per day by November.

Germany

Germany was praised for its initial response to the first wave of the coronavirus crisis. To date, Germany has recorded over 275,000 cases, but has reported fewer than 10,000 deaths, JHU data shows, a far lower number of fatalities than its European counterparts.

Nonetheless, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) shows that cases are rising, particularly in the cities of Munich and Hamburg.

On Tuesday, a further 1,821 new infections were registered after a rise of 922 cases reported Monday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reportedly called for a crisis summit next week with regional governors, German media reported Monday.

Munich has tightened rules on face masks, which must now be worn in public, and contact restrictions. German Health Minister Jens Spahn has also said Germany will step up its testing regime as cases rise.

On Monday, the RKI called for “the entire population to be committed to infection control” by consistently observing rules of distance and hygiene, and advising that “crowds of people should be avoided if possible and celebrations should be limited to the closest circle of family and friends.”

Italy

Italy was the epicenter of Europe’s first outbreak in late winter, with the first outbreak in Europe appearing in the north of the country in February. To date, Italy has reported almost 300,000 cases and over 35,000 fatalities. 

Italy is also seeing a rise in new infections, but not at the rate of its neighbors. On Monday, for example, it reported 1,350 new cases in the last 24 hours, the health ministry said.

Italian politicians are reluctant to return to a severe lockdown that saw Italians banned from leaving their homes for all but the most essential reasons.

Instead, Italy appears to be looking to test people arriving from other European virus hotspots. Health Minister Roberto Speranza said in a Facebook post Monday that he had signed an order making it obligatory for people arriving in Italy “from Paris or other parts of France with significant circulation” of the coronavirus to be tested.

Speranza added that European data on Covid-19 “must not be underestimated,” and that while “Italy is better off than other countries … great prudence is still needed to avoid rendering the sacrifices made up to now in vain.”

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