Ex-Netanyahu Aide Got Standard Police Treatment, Witness Says in Corruption Trial

'Nothing was done that wasn’t done to other detainees in other cases,' says officer who interrogated Netanyahu's ex-aide turned state's evidence Nir Hefetz, after allegations of cruel treatment

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Nir Hefetz outside a Jerusalem court house, November 2021.
Nir Hefetz outside a Jerusalem court house, November 2021.Credit: Jack Guez/Pool Photo via AP
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

A police officer who interrogated state’s evidence Nir Hefetz in the corruption investigation of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was ordered to ask a woman close to Hefetz to give a statement as a pressure tactic, but has no idea who ordered him to do so.

The officer, Nir Schwartz, was testifying in Netanyahu’s ongoing bribery trial in the Jerusalem District Court on Monday.

Details of the pressure tactic are under a gag order, and part of the hearing was held on camera, but Schwartz insisted it was nothing unusual. He added that police treated Hefetz “fairly and respectfully.”

“It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable to be arrested; conditions in jail aren’t exactly the Hilton and the food isn’t gourmet,” Schwartz said. “But nothing was done that wasn’t done to other detainees in other cases.”

Hefetz initially refused to provide information, Schwartz said, and it was his job to get him to relent. Nevertheless, he said, “there was no special pressure in the interrogation.”

Regarding investigators’ threat to Hefetz that his family life was “in existential danger” if he didn’t cooperate, Schwartz said: “We tried to persuade him emotionally. ... I explained to him that if he continued not cooperating, it would affect the court’s view, and the consequences could be destructive for him because if he went to jail he wouldn’t see his family and his children.”

During the cross-examination, Netanyahu’s lawyer, Boaz Ben Zur, asked who ordered Schwartz to summon the woman close to Hefetz. “I don’t know how to point to any particular person,” Schwartz answered. “I was ordered.”

“By whom?” Ben Zur reiterated. Schwartz replied, “I don’t know.” He added that as far as he remembers, all the questions to Hefetz were formulated by him and two colleagues.

Schwartz denied that Hefetz’s detention conditions were meant to pressure him to cooperate, adding that police have no authority over what happens in jail.

Regarding Hefetz’s claim that he was bitten by bugs in his cell and denied medical treatment, he said, “One day he arrived with scratches on his body, but you don’t stop an investigation for scratches. The next day he returned with a cream. Everything he complained about was addressed, even if not immediately.”

As for Hefetz’s claims of being exhausted, Schwartz said he halted the interrogation one particular day when Hefetz complained of being especially tired. In general though, “he was very focused throughout the interrogation. He read everything he was shown very carefully.”

Schwartz denied that police pressured Hefetz to change lawyers, but admitted that one of his colleagues discussed the issue with Hefetz and said he considered this “problematic.”

“That’s something we shouldn’t get into,” he said.

The colleague in question, Yaniv Peleg, had told Hefetz that just as he would change his doctor if he were misdiagnosed, a lawyer can also “save you or kill you.” After turning state’s evidence, Hefetz did change lawyers.

During cross-examination, Ben Zur asked Schwartz who came up with the idea that favorable news media coverage could constitute a bribe, which is one of the crimes Netanyahu was ultimately charged with. Schwartz said he didn’t know.

Ben Zur then noted that police told Hefetz he was also suspected of taking a bribe, and Schwartz admitted he had no idea what bribe Hefetz might have been suspected of receiving.

In response to Ben Zur’s questions, Schwartz said police hadn’t compared Netanyahu’s coverage with that of other politicians, either at Walla – the internet news site that allegedly provided the tilted coverage – or at other media outlets. He added that he didn’t recall whether police ever considered taking statements from other media owners or editors-in-chief.

Schwartz will continue testifying on Tuesday, to be followed by Peleg.

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