'Interrogators Threatened My Family,' Says Netanyahu's Ex-aide Hefetz at Corruption Trial

The cross-examination of former Netanyahu adviser turned state's evidence Nir Hefetz began with new accusations that he was spat on by interrogators: 'They kept putting pressure on me to provide information'

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Nir Hefetz, former spokesman of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is pictured outside a Jerusalem court house, in November.
Nir Hefetz, former spokesman of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is pictured outside a Jerusalem court house, in November. Credit: JACK GUEZ - AFP
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Nir Hefetz, the Netanyahu family’s former adviser turned state's  evidence in the ex-premier's corruption trial, said his treatment at the hand of interrogators "reminded me of the Shin Bet," as he continued his condemnation of the state's conduct at his Wednesday hearing.

Hefetz, a state witness, told the Jerusalem District Court that he was threatened and screamed at during his questioning in the Bezeq-Walla bribery case, also known as Case 4000.

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The conditions of the interrogation are a key focus for Netanyahu's attorney, Boaz Ben Tzur, in his ongoing cross-examination of Hefetz, seeking to prove that Hefetz became state's evidence under pressure.

"She literally spat on me. An hour and a half of rampage. Raging at me, it was inconceivable. I no longer remember what I was asked, they just threatened my family, horrible screams for an hour-and-a-half," Hefetz said at the hearing.

"I'm telling you what I saw," Hefetz told the court. "The interrogators kept putting pressure on me to provide information by threatening to break up my family, and they severely violated my constitutional right to privacy," he added.

On Tuesday, Hefetz had aired similar allegations, stating that the interrogators threatened him that if he refused to consent to have materials on his phone downloaded, they would worsen his conditions during interrogation. Hefetz said the phone contained “materials [protected] under personal privacy” that he did not want to give up, but eventually gave his consent on his lawyer’s advice.

Hefetz testified: “From the first moment I realized there was a threat that my privacy was being destroyed. You don’t have to be a genius. It wasn’t even said as a hint.” He also added that there were "endless overtures" during police questioning that he needed to become a state witness. 

Behind closed doors, out in the open

Just over an hour of Wednesday's questioning on Hefetz took place behind closed doors, and this has proven a sticking point in the last two days of the hearing. 

Before the beginning of the cross-examination on Tuesday, the prosecution asked that discussions of the interrogation ploy used on Hefetz – related to a young woman of his acquaintance – be held in chambers. The young woman was summoned following his arrest to make a statement, during which she was asked intimate questions, irrelevant to the charges against Hefetz. A day before her testimony the investigators threatened Hefetz, “Your family life is in mortal peril,” and on the day of the woman’s statement, investigators made sure Hefetz ran into her in the corridors of Police Unit 433.

Testimony of Nir Hefetz this week at the hearing in the Jerusalem District Court.Credit: Emil Salman

Prosecuting attorney Amir Tabenkin replied, “The witness is supposed to answer questions freely, and he cannot answer when he is afraid to reveal personal details in his reply. Holding this part in chambers is meant to protect the privacy of the witness and third parties.” Hefetz concurred: "I will be open and candid and fulfill your instructions all the way – even at the cost of my privacy, but in chambers.”

However, the judges overruled the blanket request, saying that if need be they would close the hearing at specific points.

This was done when Hefetz was asked about his ex-wife’s interrogation. Hefetz testified that on one of the days he was in custody, they brought his ex-wife to Unit 433. “They took me out of the interrogation room seemingly for no reason and walked me down a long corridor, and before we got to the elevator they made sure she passed by me, and they told me not to say a word.”

When Ben Tzur asked if the meeting with his ex-wife in the hall was coincidental, Hefetz asked to hold the rest of the hearing in chambers: “Close the hearing and I’ll give you the full details. I understood it was a trick.” The judges accepted the request, and the public was removed from the courtroom while Hefetz testified on the matter.

Hefetz testifies on other cases

Prior to the cross-examination in Cases 1000 (lavish gifts) and 2000 (Yediot Aharonot), Hefetz addressed the level of coordination between Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, saying: “It’s the highest level of coordination possible. To the point you can hardly even separate. Apart from Israel’s strategic issues, in all issues of media and Netanyahu’s survival in office, important speeches, any political matter, Sara is involved and knows in real time, is party to decision-making – he doesn’t make decisions before consulting her. They act as a single person. It’s a very united and cohesive family, even in the beautiful sense of the word. I include Yair too. At the highest level imaginable.”

The prosecution presented transcripts of conversations between Hefetz and Arnon Milchan, the Hollywood producer and one of the principals in Case 1000, who was close both to Netanyahu and to Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes. Hefetz continued on Tuesday to testify about the rivalry between Netanyahu and Mozes, who was quoted as telling Milchan: “I’ll go to Balfour [the prime minister’s residence] to get a mandate to get two weeks of quiet.”

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arriving in court in NovemberCredit: Emil Salman

In court Hefetz explained that the object was to create better opening terms to “make peace” between Netanyahu and Mozes. “The offer was that if tempers flare, there will be a period of calm and then talks can happen, and it will be easier. When I suggest asking for a timeout the meaning is that there will be no stories about the Netanyahu family. And then they can speak more calmly and not in the heat of anger. I just wanted the quiet to work, I was between a rock and a hard place.”

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