‘Look Surprised’

Judge, Investigator Off Telecom-giant Case After Texts Show They Coordinated

The two coordinated extending the detention of four suspects in so-called Case 4000, Channel 10 reported

Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz in court, February 18, 2018.
\ Moti Milrod

WhatsApp messages between an Israel Securities Authority investigator and the judge in the graft case at Bezeq, the country’s largest telecom company, show that the two coordinated extending the detention of four suspects, Channel 10 reported Sunday night.

The suspects discussed in the exchange were Bezeq CEO Stella Handler, Bezeq vice president Amikam Shorer, Or Elovitch, the son of Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch, and Shaul Elovitch's wife, Iris. All four were arrested last week as part of the investigation, known as Case 4000.

This case involves suspicions that while serving as communications minister from 2014 to 2017 (while he was also prime minister), Netanyahu intervened with regulators to help the Bezeq group, which is controlled by Shaul Elovitch. In exchange, Elovitch, allegedly ordered Bezeq’s Walla News site to provide favorable coverage of the prime minister and his wife, Sara Netanyahu.

Two Netanyahu confidants, his former personal spokesman, Nir Hefetz, and Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber, were arrested in the case. Last week, Filber became a state's witness in the case, and his testimony is expected to implicate the prime minister in the affair. Netanyahu will be questioned in the case on Friday, before he leaves for the United States the next day.

“Great, at least the good news is that Or and Amikam will be released tomorrow with conditions. Look surprised,” the investigator, Eran Shacham-Shavit, wrote to Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz, according to the report. In response the judge wrote, “I’m starting to work on a proper expression of complete surprise.”

As a result of the report, Poznanski-Katz announced that she is recusing herself from the case. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut have asked the ombudsman for complaints about judges to launch an examination into the Poznanski-Katz’s actions, and will act in accordance with the examination’s findings.

The Justice Ministry announced that the investigator, Shacham-Shavit, has also recused himself and that a disciplinary investigation will be opened against him. 

In light of the new development, the lawyers for the six defendants in the case filed a request for their clients' immediate release, and an urgent hearing on the matter has been scheduled by the new judge on the case, Judge Ala Masarwa, for Monday.

"It appears that the correspondence speaks for itself," the lawyers said. "It doesn't require any interpretation. It involves unprecedented conduct in its severity, the clear significance of which is that all of the detainees in the case are clearly illegally in detention."

For her part, the chairwoman of the Israel Securities Authority, Anat Guetta, responded: "On its face, this appears to be an exceptional and improper occurrence and the authority will carry out urgent clarification of the matter."

According to Channel 10, the securities investigator sent other messages the judge. “Stella and Iris – we’ll ask for a few days tomorrow. They’ll ask for three; you can certainly, but certainly, give two days,” read one. In response, the judge wrote, “You continue to reveal everything to me and I will be forced to look really, really surprised.” Shaham-Shavit replied: “So perhaps the outline we were thinking about isn’t so far from reality. It cost me in blood. They almost punched me out at Lahav [433, the police anti-corruption and organized crime unit].”

Media consultant Eli Kamir, who was also arrested last week for his alleged role in offering retired Judge Hila Gerstl the position of attorney general in return for closing a case against the prime minister's wife, had his detention extended by five days on Sunday on suspicions relating to Case 4000.