State Witness Says Netanyahu Urged Him to Fire Senior Official to Accommodate Telecom Giant

Shlomo Filber, former director general of the Communications Ministry, told police the prime minister asked him to fire a deputy who was opposing the proposed pro-Bezeq reform

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Shlomo Filber, left, one of Netanyahu's closest allies.
Moti Milrod / Maged Gozani

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged ex director-general at the Communications Ministry Shlomo Filber to fire one of his deputies who was opposed to a proposed reform in the cellphone market, which would have favored the Bezeq telecommunications company, according to Filber's testimony, Channel 12 news reported.

The report about the Bezeq case, in which Netanyahu is accused of trading favors in exchange for positive media coverage, named the deputy targeted by Netanyahu as Haran Levaot.

Netanyahu reportedly called Filber a year after he was appointed as director-general, and asked: “What’s with that Haran [Levaot], why aren’t you replacing him?”

The prime minister is expected to stand trial after a hearing, for accepting a bribe from the controlling shareholder at Bezeq, Shaul Elovitch.

During his police testimony, the investigator asked Filber to elaborate on whether Netanyahu had reprimanded him over the Bezeq affair. Filber said that he had not been reprimanded, “other than in one conversation, a year after I came in, when Netanyahu mentioned that things weren’t moving along as expected. This was sort of a reprimand, but at low volumes.”

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Filber noted that this was at “a time of great pressure, with Nir (Hefetz) and Sara Netanyahu implying that I wasn’t meeting expectations and delivering the goods. He was sent to berate me and urge me – I assume by his wife or his close confidants Nir Hefetz or Nathan Eshel. I heard the same tune from all three of them at that time.”

The investigator wanted to know what Netanyahu had said about Haran, and Filber replied: “He kept repeating – who is this Haran, why don’t you replace him?” Filber emphasized that it was clear to him that someone had marked that man.” That was at a time when Bezeq was negotiating the price of cellphone services with the Communications Ministry, with the talks constantly breaking down.

This refers to talks held between Haran and the CEO of Bezeq, Stella Handler, as well as with Elovitch. “I knew this conversation [with Netanyahu] was in relation to that. I only said: it’s not that easy to fire someone from one day to the next without due process. I’m looking after it.”

In the charges against Netanyahu it says that he wanted on several occasions to make sure that Filber was taking care of Bezeq according to his instructions. The charges also note that Netanyahu called Filber and berated him for not firing Levaot, who was at the forefront of the ministry’s dispute with Bezeq over prices in the cellphone market, as part of the new reform. 

Channel 12 reported that Filber testified that Netanyahu instructed him to moderate the drop in prices, as part of the reform in the cellphone market, and to approve Bezeq’s merger with YES satellite TV. Filber said, according to Channel 12, that he understood what the mission was and that he had to carry it out.

Filber said that a few days after assuming office he met Netanyahu, who told him not to cancel all competition, but to see what could be done about prices, perhaps stretching the decrease out over time. According to Filber, Netanyahu indicated with his hand a smaller rate of decline.

The Attorney General announced in February that he intended to indict Netanyahu, subject to a hearing, in three cases. In the Bezeq-Walla! case (case 4000), Netanyahu is suspected of accepting a bribe from Elovitch. He would receive favorable coverage on the Walla! website, owned by Elovitch, in exchange for promoting Bezeq interests.

The hearing was set for July and was then postponed until October. In case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of fraud and breach of trust, for receiving gifts from businessman Arnon Milchan. In case 2000, he is suspected of fraud and breach of trust for a deal he concocted with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, involving favorable coverage in exchange for weakening Yedioth’s rival newspaper, Israel Hayom.