Netanyahu Trial: Key Witness Says Former PM Worried About Reports Linking Him to Media Tycoon

Shlomo Filber also tells court he had destroyed correspondence at the request of Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu’s former media adviser, who has also turned state’s evidence

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem District Court in March.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem District Court in March.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Shlomo Filber, the former Communications Ministry director general who has turned state’s evidence in the case against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Netanyahu had been worried when the first reports of his relationship with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of telecom company Bezeq, surfaced in 2016.

Winding up the final day of initial testimony in Case 4000, Filber told the court he had destroyed correspondence at the request of Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu’s former media adviser, who has also turned state’s evidence. Filber will testify next about Case 1000, and a cross-examination will follow.

Filbrer's testimony in the so-called Case 4000 is considered crucial. Case 4000 is viewed the most serious of the Netanyahu corruption cases, and revolves around a bribery deal between Netanyahu and Elovich, who controlled the Bezeq telecommunications company and the Walla News site.

According to the indictment, Netanyahu and Elovich engaged in a quid-pro-quo deal in which Netanyahu – as communication minister – led regulatory steps directly tied to Elovich's businesses and interests that yielded the tycoon some $500 million. In exchange, the tycoon gave Netanyahu favorable coverage at Walla. Filber, the indictment states, promoted Elovich’s interests at Netanyahu’s behest.

During his testimony, Filber repeated that he was unaware at the time it was allegedly happening of any illicit dealings between Netanyahu and Elovitch. He said he was surprised to learn about the allegations from police and therefore while they were questioning him he presented a harsher version than in court, but only after first attempting to conceal from investigators exactly what he knew.

In response, prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh said Filber’s story wasn’t credible and that he knew about the “irresistible pressure” Elovitch was exerting on Netanyahu over an agreement of favorable coverage on the Walla news website in exchange for regulatory favors months before he was questioned.

Filber attributed the change in his story to the fact that at first he wanted to “maintain room to maneuver” when asked whether he had received instructions from Netanyahu relating to Bezeq.

“During the first round of questioning I was evasive and didn’t answer the investigators,” he told Tirosh. “I needed time to put my thoughts in order, because I was very surprised .... I realized from the questions where [the investigation] was going but knew that nobody would believe I wasn’t connected to this issue. But you slowly internalize things, and in the end I called the lawyers and decided to turn state’s evidence.”

Filber asserted that until he began to be questioned by the police, he had done nothing wrong. Any flaws in his conduct while he was in were of an ethical nature liable to disciplinary action rather than criminal.

Tirosh maintained that Filber remained loyal to Netanyahu and was still trying to downplay matters relating to him.

“The truth is complicated,” replied Filber. “I love Netanyahu. Would I not tell the truth because of that? No. When someone trusts you and brings you into his inner sanctum, you don’t gossip about him. What was necessary I said, what was cheap gossip I didn’t.”

Filber described a meeting with Netanyahu in which the prime minister asked, “What’s happening with all the things we’re doing in the ministry, with activities relating to Bezeq?” Filber said he understood that the “purpose of the conversation was to see that I was handling issues related to Bezeq, that I was moving ahead with them and doing what was necessary, that I was taking care of everything I was involved with at the time.”

Filber explained to Judge Moshe Bar-Am that he got no specific instructions or requests from Netanyahu and that “the purpose was to receive a situation report.” He told Netanyahu that they were going forward with the plan for reform in the wholesale telecoms market. “His [Netanyahu’s] request was to take care of Shaul Elovitch,” said Filber.

Filber said Netanyahu was worried about a critical report in TheMarker alleging that “Netanyahu and Filber are giving billions to Elovitch” in connection with approving structural changes inside Bezeq that would benefit the company. He said Netanyahu did not tell him to stop giving preferential treatment to Elovitch but was angry that his name was cited in TheMarker’s story.

When asked about his relationship with Hefetz, Filber said that he had met with him several times in regard to Bezeq and Elovitch. Hefetz had told him not to be too generous with the company in order to keep it dependent on Netanyahu. Filber said he didn’t regard that as a binding instruction from Netanyahu.

He said Netanyahu would listen to Hefetz, and that conversations with him were a continuation of an “instructional conversation” with the prime minister. He realized that Hefetz “was familiar with Netanyahu’s secrets from another source and had considerable influence on the prime minister. He’s Netanyahu’s long arm.”

During their fourth meeting, Filber said, Hefetz asked him to dispose of online correspondence between them related to reports on the investigation against Netanyahu. “He asked me if I thought it was the Elovitch story. I told him I didn’t think so. I was calm. In the end he said ‘You’re erasing the messages,’ I said no, and he said ‘erase them.’ I erased what he asked for, but usually I don’t erase.”

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