Netanyahu Trial: State Witness Confirms Aiding Bezeq, but Says Reasons Were Also Professional

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Shlomo Filber at court in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Shlomo Filber at court in Jerusalem on Wednesday.Credit: Reuven Castro
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Correction: Judge Moshe Bar-Am did not tell Shlomo Filber that nothing can justify his conduct with Bezeq, as a previous version of this article states. Judge Bar-Am was asking about the contradiction between Filber's admission he acted improperly and his answer which justified his conduct. We apologize for the error.

The state witness in the Netanyahu bribery trial, Shlomo Filber, confirmed in court testimony Wednesday that he acted to benefit Bezeq as director general of the Communications Ministry. But Filber said he did so for professional reasons, not only because of the instructions he got from then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh continued her cross-examination of Filber in the wake of her motion to have him declared a hostile witness.

At the heart of Filber’s testimony was the issue of why he sought to delay the government’s landline telephony reform to Bezeq’s benefit, contrary to the position of senior ministry staff. He said he sought to placate Bezeq, so it would cooperate with the reform. “I strive for solutions,” he said. “Some will go with a hammer to the head. My worldview is different. I realized it wouldn’t work if we head for a blow-up.”

Tirosh noted that Filber could have carried out the reform even without Bezeq’s consent, and maintained that he chose not to do so because of Netanyahu’s directive to benefit Bezeq’s controlling stakeholder Shaul Elovitch. “You received a green light to go, and you stayed put,” she accused the witness. “You know what needs to be done, but you don’t do it, you don’t act as a regulator.” When she noted that Filber said in his police testimony that he felt “bound” to Bezeq, he replied: “You’ll repeat that all day, and it’s true, but there were other considerations as well.”

Netanyahu and Elovitz in court on Monday.

Later on Tirosh said to the witness: “Look, Mr. Filber, no one is disputing your standing and professional knowledge. You’re not a bad director. You received instructions from Netanyahu to moderate the drop in prices, and your entire conduct toward Bezeq stems from that.” Filber replied: “You’re not showing the other side, the importance of launching a process in cooperation.” Tirosh reminded him that on the first day of his testimony, when he described the meeting in which Netanyahu instructed him on the matter, Filber had said: “Nothing of what was said there was done.” Referring to this, Tirosh noted: “The Bezeq-Yes merger was done. Netanyahu asked to finish it, and you finished it.”

Tirosh showed an email in which Filber wrote that Netanyahu, who was also communications minister at the time, had approved a move designed to benefit Bezeq. The witness said that at that time he had “no idea whatsoever of any conflict of interest” of Netanyahu’s. “Netanyahu didn’t get into details. He didn’t know the issues and didn’t care. I spoke a short sentence, he said ‘OK,’ and that was the end of it.” The approval by Netanyahu happened after the “instruction conversation,” at which he instructed Filber to advance Bezeq’s interests.

About the inquiry into Netanyahu’s conflict of interest, the witness said: “I was first exposed to it in Haaretz’s report about Walla. At some point I was told that the Justice Ministry is beginning to look into a complaint. It seems like a kind of harassment, and I moved in.”

He testified that he met several times with then-Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and asked for his opinion. At first Mendelblit was reserved, but then told Filber he would not allow the situation to continue. The witness told the court that he tried to convince Mendelblit and his then-deputy, Dina Silber, that Netanyahu was not in a conflict of interest. “We thought we could persuade them to let Netanyahu continue being communications minister. That was the most important thing to me and Netanyahu.” Thus, Filber argued that there was no reason to bar Netanyahu from matters pertaining to Bezeq, as most decisions never reach the minister’s desk anyway.

On Wednesday Filber admitted that he told none of these interlocutors about the instructions Netanyahu had given him: “It seemed trivial. I understood that he has a connection with Elovitch, like with the rest of the publishers. It didn’t register as a conflict of interest.”

Filber added that in a meeting with Netanyahu at the time, he updated him about the ongoing investigation. Then, he said, Sara Netanyahu passed by. “He (Netanyahu) asked her, ‘Are you corresponding with [Shaul Elovitch’s wife] Iris Elovitch?’ and she replied, ‘I did, and stopped it,’ or something like that, and he said, ‘Very good. Don’t do it anymore. Don’t continue.’”

Filber was asked to explain his covert line of contact with the Bezeq brass, to whom he delivered internal ministry documents. He acknowledged that he hid these dealings from ministry officials, but that he didn't do so with other companies. Filber admitted not telling former Deputy Attorney General Avi Licht, which whom he discussed the telephony reform, about his handling and delivery of internal ministry documents to Bezeq. Tirosh noted that in his police testimony, Filber said he realized there was no reason for his conduct save for Netanyahu’s directive.

As to what was termed “the reprimand talk,” Filber said the prime minister called him, asked him ‘who this Haran is’ (Haran Levaot, a deputy director in the ministry considered unsympathetic to Bezeq) and “in general, told me to fire him.”

On the stand Wednesday, Filber said, “We didn’t talk about the context” regarding the demand to fire Levaot, and Tirosh confronted him with his police testimony, at which he connected the demand to fire Levaot with the Bezeq issue. Finally, Tirosh got Filber to admit that this “reprimand talk” took place while Netanyahu’s possible conflict of interest was being looked into – which proves, according to Tirosh, that “even at this time, Netanyahu’s involvement is there.”

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