Netanyahu Trial: Witness Changes Story on Key Meeting a Second Time

Netanyahu's former Communications Ministry director general reiterates his statements to the police before the trial but contradicts his court's testimony from last month

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Shlomo Filber at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, in February.
Shlomo Filber at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, in February.Credit: Moti Milrod
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Shlomo Filber, the former Benjamin Netanyahu aide who has turned state’s evidence in Case 4000, on Monday changed his story again about what was allegedly communicated to him by the former prime minister during a key meeting where the two discussed regulatory policy toward the telecommunications company Bezeq.

Filber, who had been appointed Communications Ministry director general at the time, testified on Monday that he had interpreted a hand gesture by Netanyahu at the meeting as a directive to consider Bezeq’s interests favorably. That echoed what he had said in statements to the police before the trial but contradicted his testimony during a cross-examination last month.

In the statement he signed for police investigators after turning state’s evidence, Filber had said Netanyahu had instructed him to slow down the gradual decrease in the payments Bezeq’s competitors were required to make to the company for the use of its network. A slower pace would give Bezeq a cost advantage over them and swell Bezeq’s profits. Filber said the directive had been accompanied by a hand gesture.

When questioned in court by prosecutors, Filber reiterated this version of events, but on cross-examination last month he told a different story – claiming that he understood Netanyahu’s words and gestures to mean that he should act according to his own best judgment, to promote competition in the telecommunications market and to ensure that rates didn’t rise. He added that the prime minister waved his hand.

Asked by the judges about this version of what happened at that key meeting, Filber replied that his incriminating interpretation of Netanyahu’s hand gesture had been influenced by the case police investigators were building.

At Monday’s hearing, Filber returned to the original version of the incident. “I testified something, and it came out completely backwards,” he said on redirect examination. “I tried to explain a nuance that is actually in the prosecution’s favor, and it didn’t work. It came out like a yeshiva student getting lost in hairsplitting. It came out badly. I wanted to say ‘Here’s evidence that there was a hand gesture.’ Then I said that I gave the full picture of the ... meeting at the police, but I couldn’t explain myself.”

The judges asked him to clarify his remarks. “I want to understand what you said before and what you’re saying now,” said Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman, who heads the three-judge panel, to which Filber replied: “What I told the police is the whole story.”

When the judge asked him to describe the meeting again, Filber said, “At the end of the meeting [Netanyahu] said, ‘[Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul] Elovitch came to me. There’s a problem at the ministry with prices. Look into it. Don’t stop competition. If needed, moderate prices.’ He made a hand gesture. "There’s a Yes-Bezeq merger. Complete it.’”

Netanyahu attorney Boaz Ben Zur asked Filber to describe the hand gesture, and the witness said it was “diagonally downward.” Judge Friedman-Feldman asked if it was a dismissive gesture, and Filber denied it. “It was like this,” he said, demonstrating it, whereupon the defense counsel showed a video of the witness mimicking the gesture in different ways. Filber couldn’t explain the discrepancies. “I’m afraid to say another word, because anything I say gets interpreted,” he said.

Ben Zur pointed out other contradictions in Filber’s statements about this so-called “instructions meeting,” including whether Netanyahu smoked a cigar during it. “Look how many versions there are,” the lawyer needled the witness. “You spoke of your photographic memory.”

Filber replied: “I recall the picture generally, not in such detail.”

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