Three of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest associates – Ari Harow, Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz – have, in the past two years, gone from being the prime minister’s confidants to turning state’s evidence against him. The three were caught in a web of suspicions of criminal wrongdoing before switching sides.
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A source who is familiar with their testimony said “each of them has provided an angle that assists in putting the pieces of the puzzle together.” Netanyahu has so far refrained from criticizing any of the three, instead focusing on what he characterized as inappropriate pressure applied on them by police investigators.
More recently, Netanyahu has also complained that he has not been given the opportunity to confront the three state witnesses. Others in the prime minister’s Likud party, including coalition chairman David Amsalem, have engaged in a campaign against the agreement that the prosecution struck with the three to turn state’s evidence, a step that he claimed was unethical. Under such arrangements, the witness provides testimony, typically against a more important suspect, in return for an agreement on the disposition of criminal suspicions against the witness himself or herself.
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Position: Netanyahu’s former chief of staff
Date of state’s evidence agreement: August 4, 2017
Suspicions that he was facing: Breach of trust, fraud in connection with the fictitious sale of his consulting firm and conflict of interest.
Information that he supplied against Netanyahu: In Case 2000 (involving conversations between the prime minister and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, allegedly over legislative concessions to Yedioth in return for favorable news coverage of Netanyahu), Harow said the prime minister had asked him to seriously look into how to bring such a deal to fruition.
The state’s evidence agreement: Harow will issue an admission and be convicted of breach of trust and serve six months of community service in addition to a 700,000 shekel ($193,000) fine.
Harow was born and raised in Los Angeles. His family immigrated to the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron in 1985 when he was 12. In 2008, Harow replaced Ayelet Shaked as Netanyahu’s bureau chief and held that position when Netanyahu returned as prime minister the following year. But shortly afterward, Harow left Netanyahu’s office and entered the private sector, citing health concerns.
Between 2010 and 2014, Harow created two consulting companies, Strategic Capital and 3H Global, mining his political expertise and connections. He then returned to Netanyahu’s side as chief of staff. But that stint, too, was short-lived, and he left to manage Likud headquarters during the 2015 election campaign.
It was the way Harow offloaded one of his consulting firms that ignited an investigation against him; the suspicion was that the sale of the company was fictitious.
In February of 2017, the police recommended that Harow be indicted on charges including bribery, fraud, breach of trust and money laundering. The police said that while serving as chief of staff, Harow maintained control of the firm, continued to profit from it and advanced its interests. It was while searching Harow’s belongings in 2015 that the police came across a recording of a Netanyahu-Mozes conversation.
Position: Communications Ministry director general
Date of state’s evidence agreement: February 20, 2018
Suspicions that he was facing: Bribe-taking, along with Netanyahu, fraud and breach of trust, and securities violations.
Information that he supplied against Netanyahu: In Case 4000 (involving regulatory concessions given to the Bezeq telecom firm, allegedly in exchange for favorable coverage of the prime minister on Bezeq’s Walla news website), Filber said that he had received explicit instructions from Netanyahu to assist Bezeq and tied his decisions to the expectation of more favorable coverage by Walla.
The state’s evidence agreement: Filber will face a disciplinary hearing rather than criminal charges and will be barred for life from the civil service.
Filber, who is a lawyer by profession, was a confidant of Benjamin Netanyahu for many years until turning state’s evidence last year. Ahead of the last election in March 2015, Filber ran Likud’s campaign. Filber was named director general of the Communications Ministry in June 2015, even though he had no relevant experience. He replaced Avi Berger, an engineer and experienced telecom executive.
Filber’s first decision, in his very first days on the job, was to flout the professional opinion at the ministry and approve the acquisition of the Yes satellite TV company by Bezeq, Israel’s telecom giant that was once an absolute monopoly. The deal, which was worth billions, mattered very much to Bezeq’s controlling shareholder at the time, Shaul Elovitch.
In 2017, the state comptroller published an especially caustic report on Bezeq, accusing Filber of contravening the professional opinion at the ministry several times. The comptroller also dwelled on Netanyahu’s conflicts of interest as communications minister (a position that he held at the time in addition to prime minister). Later that year, following an investigation by the Israel Securities Authority, Filber was placed under house arrest for two weeks on allegations that he had illegally helped Bezeq.
Position: National public diplomacy head, personal communications adviser to the Netanyahu family
Date of state’s evidence agreement: March 4, 2018
Suspicions that he was facing: Bribe-taking, along with Netanyahu and obstruction of justice
Information that he supplied against Netanyahu: In Case 4000 he gave an account in which he spoke of a connection between alleged requests to skew Walla’s news coverage and policy decisions made by Netanyahu
The state’s evidence agreement: He will not be charged and will not pay a fine.
Nir Hefetz is a former newspaper editor who served as media adviser to the prime minister’s family. Notorious for throwing his weight around when he wasn’t happy with press coverage of his clients, he was known to be especially mindful of the needs of Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife.
Hefetz was arrested in connection with Case 4000 over allegations that Bezeq reaped huge financial benefits for allegedly helping the Netanyahu family obtain favorable coverage on Walla. Hefetz was known to be close to Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, which owned the Walla website. Hefetz was suspected of serving as a key intermediary in the dealings between the Netanyahu family and Walla.
Hefetz’s association with Netanyahu began in 2009, when he was appointed chief spokesman for the prime minister, then beginning his second stint in office. Hefetz’s time in the Prime Minister’s Office was brief, but in 2014, he began working with Netanyahu again, this time as a media adviser for the prime minister’s family. His services were provided through a private consultancy company he established. During the 2015 Knesset election, Hefetz also worked as a campaign strategist for Netanyahu’s Likud party.
As part of the state’s evidence agreement with Hefetz, he provided the police with text messages and recordings from 2009 and 2010 that purportedly buttress the suspicions against Netanyahu. They relate primarily to Case 2000 and early contacts over a “cease-fire” between the prime minister and Yedioth Ahronoth.