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New setback for Netanyahu as ex-aide signs state witness deal

(FILES) A picture dated on February 25, 2018 shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office. Israeli police arrived on March 2, 2018 at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home where media reports said they were to question him for an eighth time over allegations of fraud and bribery. / AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON

An ex-aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signed a state witness deal in a corruption probe linked to his former boss, Israeli media reported Monday, dealing a new setback to the premier.

News of the agreement broke ahead of Netanyahu’s meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House later Monday.

The widely reported agreement between Israeli authorities and Nir Hefetz, a former spokesman for the Netanyahu family, comes as corruption investigations into the prime minister intensify.

Israeli police provided no details on the reported agreement. Hefetz would be the third Netanyahu associate to sign a state witness deal in recent months.

An aide to Netanyahu immediately denounced the reports and proclaimed the long-serving prime minister’s innocence.

“When there’s something there, it doesn’t take even one state witness,” the aide said.

“And now, even a thousand state witnesses will not help.”

On Sunday, an Israeli court released Hefetz and telecoms mogul Shaul Elovitch to house arrest after 14 days in custody.

Hefetz is alleged to have acted as a messenger between Netanyahu, Elovitch’s telecoms group Bezeq and news website Walla!, media reports say.

Police suspect Bezeq was given regulatory breaks in return for Netanyahu receiving positive coverage on Walla!, a news website owned by the telecoms group.

Hefetz is also suspected of trying to bribe a retired judge to block a probe into the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, over alleged misuse of public funds, according to the reports.

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