Analysis

Netanyahu’s Associates Are Being Investigated Left and Right, and He Knows Nothing?

Anyone who takes a step back and looks at the case into wrongdoing among the heads of Israel's biggest telecom and the ministry tasked with overseeing them would surely ask: Where’s Netanyahu?

Shlomo Filber, Shaul Elovitch and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Emil Salman, Eyal Toueg, Alex Kolomoisky

The Israel Securities Authority finished its investigation into the Bezeq affair in record time, partially thanks to a gag order, and on Monday called for criminal charges against Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch, several Bezeq executives and Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber. All signs are that the recommendations are solid, although the prosecution will decide whether to press charges.

As far as is known, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit was not involved in the probe. What’s certain is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was never questioned as a witness, and certainly not as a suspect. Netanyahu is outside the picture, and that’s odd. Anyone who takes a step back and looks at the Bezeq case as a whole would surely ask: Where’s Netanyahu?

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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, January 16, 2017.
Ilan Assayag

The ISA found Filber allegedly acted consistently and systematically to advance Bezeq’s interests while hiding his actions from bureaucrats and regulators. Filber was appointed by Netanyahu when he took the communications portfolio in 2014, a ministry he held until Mendelblit ordered him to give it up. Netanyahu never disclosed his friendship with Elovitch to the state comptroller, even when put on the spot, according to a comptroller’s report published in July. Netanyahu dealt with 12 issues involving Bezeq during his time as communications minister, without revealing his connection to Elovitch.

Not declaring a friendship is a slippery slope that could easily lead to breach of trust offenses. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert was convicted of breach of trust in the Investment Center affair, because he didn’t declare his friendship with Attorney Uri Messer yet discussed issues involving Messer’s clients.

FILE PHOTO: Shlomo Filber
Emil Salman

Filber was appointed ministry director general after the quick ouster of his predecessor, Avi Berger, who says Netanyahu fired him by phone. Netanyahu considered the Communications Ministry important enough to appoint himself its minister. He’s always been interested in communications, apparently due to his wish to improve his own media image. Netanyahu has shown himself ready to advance his own interests, through, for example, his meetings with Yedioth Ahronoth owner Arnon Mozes, now the subject of Investigation 2000.

Why did the ISA investigation stop with Filber? One possibility is Netanyahu knew nothing of Filber’s alleged conduct, meaning that appointing Filber was merely bad judgment.

Another option is that Filber did exactly what Netanyahu expected him to do. Maybe he knew just what his boss wanted, without even discussing it. You don’t need to be a genius to get that helping the owner of the Walla news portal, who happens to be Netanyahu’s friend, could benefit the prime minister. Netanyahu’s associates are being investigated left and right, and he knows nothing. If Netanyahu wasn’t questioned, that means Filber didn’t pass the buck.

Did Netanyahu appoint Filber knowing he would help Bezeq? The investigation should have been much broader.