Netanyahu Trial: Key Witness Says Former PM Backed Telecom Giant Bezeq's Merger

Shlomo Filber, the ex-head of Communications Ministry, says he tried to move quickly to allow a merger of telecom giant Bezeq’s subsidiaries into a single company, which meant major financial savings for the company

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in court, Jerusalem, March 2022.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in court, Jerusalem, March 2022.Credit: Flash 90/Pool Photo via AP
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Shlomo Filber, the state’s witness in the Benjamin Netanyahu bribery trial, told the court on Monday that the telecom giant Bezeq’s former major shareholder, Shaul Elovich, had made it clear to him that Netanyahu backed moves to benefit Bezeq.

Filber, who was the Communications Ministry director general at the time, said he had tried to move quickly to allow a merger of all of Bezeq’s subsidiaries into a single company, which Bezeq wanted because it would mean major financial savings. During that time, Tzachi Hanegbi had become acting communications minister because of a conflict of interests between Netanyahu and Bezeq, and Hanegbi had wanted to study the matter with the ministry personnel.

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At that point, Filber said in his testimony, he spoke with Elovich about the matter. “Shaul said a kind of statement, ‘you have backing, do it.’ I told him that the minister [Hanegbi] hadn’t approved it…I understood that someone above the minister – that the prime minister [Netanyahu] – was backing me.”

According to Filber, he understood from the conversation that “in the end if he says that I have the backing to do [something] against the position of the minister, so I have the backing of the prime minister.”

Netanyahu’s attorney, Boaz Ben Zur, objected to Filber’s testimony as hearsay. “It was two months that Netanyahu was not intervening [regarding Bezeq]…Filber said Elovich said something, maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.”

During Filber’s testimony in the Jerusalem District Court, the prosecutor, Yehudit Tirosh presented quotes from Filber’s interrogation in which he said he had quickly removed the organizational separation between Bezeq’s subsidiaries and had damaged the process. He confirmed in court on Monday what he had told his interrogators, that most of the steps he had taken were “professional, but, ah, I tainted them all, let’s say…discretion was compromised to a certain extent because it was clear that at the end we had to reach a positive outcome with Bezeq.”

Key witness Shlomo Filber in the trial of Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem 2022.Credit: Emil Salman

Tirosh added in questioning Filber: “There is one thing you are not saying that you said very well in the past. You said that exceptions in the treatment of Bezeq in the matter of organizational separation were certainly on the instructions of Mr. Netanyahu – who had to continue in a positive manner with Bezeq.” Filber responded: “My position has not changed. That is correct.”

Tirosh said to Filber that after he had signed the state’s witness agreement, “you spoke very bluntly. You said ‘I went as far as could be,’ ‘the idea was basically professional, the implementation was not professional,’” and Filber confirmed that this was the case.

“It’s true that Bezeq was dictating to me, they said that if I wanted agreements with them I’d have to move on the process by the end of 2016…I’m not trying to evade…my understanding was that…if I blow up the process there would no optic fiber distribution,” referring to a move Filber wanted to make for which he needed Bezeq’s agreement.

Tirosh also presented evidence in Monday’s hearing that she believes showed that Filber tried to keep the ministry’s legal department, as well as Hanegbi out of the move to unify Bezeq’s subsidiaries.

Filber also told the court he had received a phone call from a reporter who told him he was about to be replaced as director general, which he said lit warning lights for him. “I did something I regret…I wondered who could calm things down and I thought of Shaul Elovich. I brought him up to date and said, ‘do me a favor, calm things down there. We’re working on something and want it so be implemented, so please.’”

Tirosh asked Filber why he approached Elovich, and noted that in his interrogation he said that Elovich “had leverage over Sara [Netanyahu], leverage of the positive coverage she was getting from Elovich on the website. So you’re using the leverage of Sara Netanyahu over Netanyahu.” Filber responded: “That was my instinct.”

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