The generous state witness deal the police signed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s confidant, Nir Hefetz, was made after it became clear that he plugged up the main hole that worried detectives in the telecom-giant case: proof that Netanyahu was aware of the quid-pro-quo relationship with the firm's owner, Shaul Elovitch.
Investigators suspect that Netanyahu provided Elovitch with regulatory benefits in exchange for flattering coverage on the popular Walla news website of telecom giant Bezeq. Hefetz's deal with the police gives him full immunity from prosecution.
Hefetz’s statements, together with those of former Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber, add up to Netanyahu's and his wife's implicit – if not explicit – awareness of the deal between Hefetz and Filber. It is not yet known what recordings Hefetz supplied to the police in support of his claims, but according to sources close to the investigation, they constituted the missing link connecting favorable coverage with financial benefits for Bezeq.
Filber told police that Hefetz conveyed messages to him regarding Bezeq on behalf of the prime minister, and that the two met on several occasions to discuss the matter. Hefetz also liaised between the Netanyahus on one hand and Elovitch and Walla on the other, expressing various requests regarding coverage on Walla. Unlike Filber, Hefetz was in contact with the other two sides of the triangle.
Figures in Netanyahu’s inner circle referred to Hefetz as “Sara’s guy.” He was indeed close to her, but often carried out assignments at the behest of the prime minister himself. When Netanyahu was asked in police interrogations about the various requests he allegedly made to change coverage by Walla, he said that was his practice with all media outlets, and that it was only natural to ask that unfair coverage be changed.
When the prime minister was confronted with Filber’s claim that Netanyahu had directed him to grant favors to Bezeq, he rebuffed it and reiterated that all of the decisions regarding Bezeq were completely professional. Netanyahu has not yet been questioned regarding Hefetz’s statements, and his next police interview has not yet been scheduled. For now, the prime minister claims that Hefetz never had anything to do with Bezeq.
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Confounding expectations, Hefetz is not now sitting down with detectives and telling them about all the criminal offenses to which he was exposed. In depositions before the state’s evidence deal was signed, before he even negotiated to receive special status as a witness for the prosecution, he enticed the police investigators with information not only about the telecom investigation, known as Case 4000, but also about cases 1000 and 2000, in which Netanyahu is accused of accepting lavish gifts from businessmen and of promising Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes to help curtail the circulation of his main competitor, Israel Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage by the newspaper.
Hefetz’s testimony on the involvement of the prime minister’s wife and son Yair in decisions affecting national security, reported by Channel 2 on Monday, shed new light on family dynamics in the Netanyahu household, but it does not point to a new criminal investigation. Hefetz has not yet thrown a new bomb at police detectives. It is up to investigators whether they expose information about his clients and other matters which he was privy to in his various roles. The deal he signed with the state obligates him to answer any questions about new issues.
The information that Hefetz has given until now has led the police and the prosecution to sign off on full immunity for him. Unlike Filber and Ari Harow, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff who turned state’s evidence last August, Hefetz will not face any punishment for his own crimes. That, say sources involved in the investigation, shows the significance of his testimony to the investigation.
According to information obtained by Haaretz, Hefetz began considering the possibility of testifying for the prosecution on February 25, hours before news of an improper exchange of text messages broke between the Israel Securities Authority prosecutor investigating the Bezeq affair and the judge who decided on the detention of suspects in the case. Hefetz met with Eli Zohar, a defense attorney, and opened a channel of communication over a possible deal. Ilan Sofer, a colleague of Zohar’s who heads the commercial and white-collar litigation department at the law firm where they both work, joined in. Last weekend, after Hefetz realized that Netanyahu had postponed his own interrogation session until Friday, forcing Hefetz to remain in jail over the weekend, the deal was realized.