State’s Witness in Netanyahu Trial to Sue Police Over Treatment

Nir Hefetz, the Netanyahu family’s former spokesperson, to begin testifying this month, says he was subjected to inhumane physical conditions

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Nir Hefetz
Nir HefetzCredit: Moti Milrod
Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz

A former aide who turned state’s evidence in Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial is planning to sue the state after he finishes testifying against his one-time boss.

Nir Hefetz says he plans to sue over what he has described as “illegal actions” by the police during the investigation.

He is slated to begin testifying in the Jerusalem District Court in mid-November, and could spend several weeks on the stand.

Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in Jerusalem on Thursday.Credit: אוהד צויגנברג

Hefetz was arrested in February 2018 on suspicion of serving as the intermediary in an alleged bribery deal between Netanyahu, then both prime minister and communications minister, and Shaul Elovitch, then the owner of the Bezeq telecommunications company. Netanyahu is suspected of granting regulatory relief to Bezeq in exchange for slanted coverage on Bezeq’s internet news site, Walla.

Hefetz, then the Netanyahu family’s personal spokesman, is alleged to be the one who transmitted requests regarding Walla’s coverage to either Elovitch or the website’s then-CEO, Ilan Yeshua. He is also suspected of obstruction of justice for having met with Elovitch at the latter’s home in Tel Aviv in late 2016 and agreeing that the two would trash their cellphones to eliminate evidence of their correspondence.

Hefetz refused to talk for a long time and was kept in custody. He agreed eventually to become state's witness.

While he was refusing to talk, he repeatedly complained to the police that he was exhausted and groggy and was therefore having trouble answering their questions. “I’m simply about to fall down ... this is exhaustion I’m incapable of describing,” he told one investigator.

He also complained that he wasn’t given medical treatment for chronic itching after being bitten by bedbugs in his jail cell. “Give me treatment,” he begged one investigator. “I’m going out of my mind with this itching ... It’s driving me crazy.”

“What do you want me to do about it?” the investigator replied. “It’s not life-threatening.”

Shaul Elovitch in Jerusalem District Court in June.Credit: אוהד צויגנברג

Police behavior reached a nadir, in Hefetz’s view, on his third day of interrogation, when an officer took a statement from a young woman he was involved with. Hefetz felt they asked the woman questions that were extremely personal, prying and completely irrelevant to the suspicions against him.

One day earlier, an investigator had warned Hefetz that he was going to be “hit by a bomb” that “will shake your world to its foundations.” Later, the investigator told him: “Your family is facing an existential threat.”

Another officer advised Hefetz to change lawyers. “Compare your lawyer to a surgeon or a doctor,” the officer said. “If a surgeon or doctor could cause your death, or if you realize at some point that the doctor’s diagnosis was wrong, maybe you need to change doctors. ... Just like he can save you, he can kill you.”

On another occasion, investigators led Hefetz’s wife to understand that at the end of her visit with him, she would be taking him home. When the visit ended and she left without him, Hefetz broke down and cried in the interrogation room.

Nevertheless, Hefetz isn’t claiming that he turned state’s evidence because of the way he was treated during his investigation.

“He’s drawing a clear line between his feelings of being severely wronged and the price he paid for the way he was investigated and his decision to cooperate with the authorities,” an acquaintance of Hefetz said, adding that Hefetz has informed the prosecution of his intent to sue.

Hefetz has said for months that his main reason for turning state’s evidence was the testimony of Shlomo Filber, the former director general of the Communications Ministry. He said the fact that Filber had gone over to the other side shocked him.

Police read Hefetz sections of Filber’s statement, in which he said that Hefetz had requested secret nighttime meetings with him outside his house, asked him not to bring any cellphones, told him that he was “coming from Balfour” – a reference to the prime minister’s official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street – and inundated him with instructions from Netanyahu and his wife Sara about regulatory issues related to Bezeq.

On one occasion, Hefetz asked Filber to help Bezeq. Then, at a subsequent meeting, he asked Filber to slow-walk the assistance. In both cases, the request was allegedly related to Walla’s compliance or lack thereof with the Netanyahus’ coverage requests.

Police also staged a confrontation between Hefetz and Yeshua, during which Yeshua recalled that Elovitch had summoned him for a nighttime meeting at the magnate’s home in December 2016, and demanded that he destroy all potentially damaging correspondence between them and discard his cellphone. Elovitch told Yeshua during that meeting that Hefetz had been there shortly beforehand, the Walla CEO said. Elovitch also asked Yeshua to meet with Hefetz.

The next day, Hefetz tried to get hold of Yeshua and left him a WhatsApp message asking if they could meet for coffee that day. Yeshua never responded to it.

Hefetz was afraid that Elovitch, like Filber, would turn state’s evidence and incriminate him for obstruction of justice, prompting him to sign his own deal.

He repeatedly insisted during questioning that he didn’t view the messages he passed on from Netanyahu to Elovitch and vice versa as a “bribery pipeline.” But he realized that his meetings with both Filber and Elovitch were a far more serious problem.

Another thing he was worried about was Sara Netanyahu’s request that he give her a cash refund for the salary the Netanyahus had paid him at the insistence of the state comptroller. “Every time I took those thousands of shekels to Balfour, I was really terrified,” he told police. He therefore turned off his phone during these meetings, so that he couldn’t be tracked.

It’s not yet clear whether Netanyahu plans to be in court during Hefetz’s testimony or whether he plans to ask the judges for permission to be absent.

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