Working Under Netanyahu, Professional Considerations Were '50 Shades of Gray,' Witness Says

‘The professional side was dominant – sometimes more and sometimes less,’ said Shlomo Filber about his decision-making when he was director general of the Communications Ministry

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
Shlomo Filber at Jerusalem District Court on Monday.
Shlomo Filber at Jerusalem District Court on Monday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Shlomo Filber, the former director general of the communications ministry who turned state's evidence in the criminal case against then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, testified on Monday that regarding his own decision-making at the ministry, "the professional side was dominant – sometimes more and sometimes less.”

Filber’s decision-making is at issue in Netanyahu’s trial in Jerusalem District Court due to charges that the former prime minister illegally struck an agreement to trade favorable government regulatory policy for the Bezeq telecommunications company for positive coverage of him and his family on the Walla news website, which Bezeq owned at the time.

Among the codefendants in the case are Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq at the time, and Elovitch’s wife, Iris.

“Ultimately, it’s a matter of 50 shades of gray. The court will decide the percentages,” Filber said regarding the extent to which the ministry decisions were motivated by professional considerations.

Filber (left) entering the courtroom in Jerusalem last week.

At Monday’s hearing, Shaul Elovitch’s lawyer, Jacques Chen, continued to try to establish that Filber had pursued ministry policy regarding the Bezeq group’s corporate structure solely for professional reasons and not in connection with a bribery scheme, as the indictment in the case alleges. Chen cited a 2015 speech that Filber gave about Bezeq’s plans to create a national fiber optic network in exchange for the corporate structural changes. Filber testified Monday that that plan was his own and had not been forced on him.

From 2015 to early 2017, Netanyahu was communications minister in addition to prime minister, after which Tzachi Hanegbi became acting minister. In Monday’s testimony, Filber said that in his first conversation with Netanyahu as director general, he understood that “you don’t pick a fight with Bezeq.”

But he added that when Hanegbi was put in charge with dealing with Bezeq, Filber had no dealings with Netanyahu on the subject and that during his time as director general, he never took a decision that he didn’t believe in.

“Netanyahu approached me to do things. I went up to him in his office and said that I wouldn’t do it,” Filber said, suggesting that he didn’t simply do whatever Netanyahu wished.

Filber’s agreement to turn state’s evidence includes provisions that he himself would not be prosecuted. But in late March, the prosecution asked the court to declare him a hostile witness, claiming that he had failed to live up to the agreement and had given testimony in court that was at odds with what he said under police interrogation.

The court ruled that he would not be declared a hostile witness. The panel of three judges did agree, however, to permit the prosecution to ask Filber leading questions as would normally be done with a witness for the opposing side. That permits the prosecution to confront him on his prior statements.

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