Israel Police Wiretapped Key Witness in Netanyahu Case but Largely Got a Few Chats With Reporters

From the transcripts we learn that the then-director general of the Communications Ministry, Shlomo Filber, strongly believed that 'the police play with the evidence' and make 'inconvenient' evidence disappear

Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz
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Former Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber during a hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, May 10, 2018.
Former Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber during a hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, May 10, 2018. Credit: Motti Milrod
Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz

In February 2018, the police asked the Central District Court for a one-month warrant to tap the phone of the Communications Ministry director general at the time, Shlomo Filber. Filber was actually suspended during that stretch, suspected of taking a bribe and conspiracy to commit a crime.

The wiretap hit the headlines recently because the police confirmed that it had exceeded the bounds of the warrant, which was approved by the court.

According to transcripts obtained by Haaretz, the wiretaps largely produced Filber’s conversations with Channel 12 News’ Amit Segal. It also emerged that Filber strongly objected to the police investigations into his boss and close confidant, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“They invented bribery here,” Filber told Segal regarding the police’s recommendation to indict Netanyahu for bribery in the so-called lavish gifts case in which Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits from billionaire James Packer and movie mogul Arnon Milchan.

Attached to the request to tap Filber’s phone was a document with details of the investigation into the “relationship between Shaul Elovitch, the controlling owner of [telecom company] Bezeq, and Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, or his family or their representatives.”

In one of the three corruption cases in which Netanyahu is on trial, the Walla news website, then owned by Bezeq, allegedly gave Netanyahu favorable coverage in return for regulatory favors for Bezeq.

According to the document, “The testimony by Ilan Yeshua, CEO of the Walla website, reveals that intervention by the Netanyahus [Benjamin and Sara] began in 2013 and increased continually … on two levels: not to post critical content and to censor criticism of the Netanyahus, and second, to post articles complimentary to the couple. …The probe connected regulatory decisions regarding Bezeq to Elovitch’s efforts for the prime minister on Walla.”

The document also contained details of the text messages with which Elovitch showered Yeshua with instructions to help Netanyahu.

At this point the authors of the request also addressed Filber’s role in the story. At that time, he had been suspended because of an investigation by the Israel Securities Authority. In that probe, Filber was questioned on suspicion that he might have illegally worked for Bezeq’s interests at the Communications Ministry, providing Bezeq with secret information. The investigation turned up no motive, however.

Benjamin Netanyahu and his lawyers at the Jerusalem District Court this week. Credit: Emil Salman

A warm thank you

In their request for a wiretap warrant, the police quoted portions of Filber’s questioning by the Israel Securities Authority. Filber told the agency how “I had … in my subconscious some connection” from an Israeli general election campaign.

When Filber was asked about this connection, he responded, referring to the free tabloid that supported Netanyahu, “We knew that, just as Israel Hayom is ours, Walla also tends to favor him.”

The document also contained text messages between Filber and Netanyahu’s communications adviser, Nir Hefetz, just before Filber’s appointment as Communications Ministry director general in the summer of 2015. The messages showed that Filber knew whom to thank for his influential job.

“Thank you first of all for the idea, and of course to him and to her for the confidence,” he texted Hefetz. “I hope to fulfill the expectations!!”

In their request for a wiretap, the police noted that from the moment Filber took up his post, he worked to delay a reform to bring down prices for consumer landline service, a reform that would have greatly harmed Bezeq.

“Well-founded findings came out about Elovitch’s actions to benefit the prime minister and Filber’s actions to delay implementation of the reform,” the police wrote.

At the exact same time, the police released their recommendation to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery in the lavish-gifts affair and in a case similar to the Bezeq-Walla one: an alleged agreement between Netanyahu and the publisher of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Arnon Mozes.

Filber felt that the law enforcement authorities were doing Netanyahu an injustice and shared his feelings with journalists. These conversations (a number with Segal and one with Raviv Drucker) are what were found relevant to the investigation.

In the transcripts, Filber often defends Netanyahu; in one conversation he mentioned Moshe Kahlon, who was communications minister from 2009 to 2013 and finance minister from 2015 to 2020.

“I tell you that everything Bibi is accused of I put Kahlon in for twice as much … by knowledge, not by assumption,” Filber told Segal. “They looked for one and they didn’t look for another; it’s going to be a matter of selective enforcement here.”

Journalist Amit Segal at the Jerusalem District Court last month. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Trashing the cops

Filber didn’t go into detail about what he found wrong with Kahlon’s conduct, but he harshly criticized the police. “The police play with the evidence they have. It’s as if that’s their role and they know how to do it,” he said.

“They collect part of the puzzle, as many pieces as possible, then they decide how to play with the picture of the puzzle. … They build themselves a picture, however it’s convenient. If there’s a part that’s inconvenient, they make it disappear.”

In another conversation, Filber told Segal that “they built a theory. They don’t build alternatives. They’re stuck to the theory.”

Filber added in another conversation: “He doesn’t think he’ll be hit with bribery for Milchan, because I’m telling you, it’s crazy, it’s exactly what they did with me about benefits for Bezeq, about implementing government policy.”

Filber was referring to his suspension during the corruption case against him. “I’m implementing government policy and they come and tell me: ‘No, it’s fraud and breach of trust because you worked to benefit Bezeq. … That’s about the same thing … they invented here [in the lavish-gifts affair] bribery.”

At that time a number of media outlets hinted that the police were also looking into a possible quid pro quo between Elovitch and Netanyahu, a case the police call Case 4000.

“Well, listen, it seems to me they’re beginning to get warmer on Case 4000. They don’t have anything in hand so they’re starting,” he told Segal.

A few days later, Filber was arrested on suspicion of bribery. Shortly after that he signed a state’s evidence agreement and told his investigators that Netanyahu had instructed him to begin his stint as director general by promoting Elovitch’s interests. Recently, ahead of Filber’s testimony in court, he underwent a refresher session with the prosecution.

Nir Hefetz, a former communications adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem District Court in December. Credit: Emil Salman

Haaretz has learned that he has reiterated his statements to the police regarding Netanyahu’s alleged instructions, but with nuance: He received the instruction to assist Elovitch from Netanyahu when he left a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office. Filber also came to the refresher sessions with a memo in which he detailed meetings with the previous attorney general, Avichai Mendelblit, on Fridays while the two went shopping for the Sabbath.

Filber, who knew Mendelblit’s shopping habits, made sure to find time with him. One of those encounters took place when Mendelblit was appointed attorney general and shortly after Haaretz published its investigative report on the tangled network of ties between Netanyahu and Elovitch.

According to Filber, Mendelblit told him at that meeting that he hadn’t yet taken up his post and so didn’t want to be asked about the matter. But he added that it didn’t seem “serious.”

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