Communications Ministry head allegedly sent classified documents to Bezeq boss

Court hears Shlomo Filber showed internal papers to officials at telecom giant, incorporated their preferences into policy, boosting Bezeq by hundreds of millions

Shlomo Filber, director of the Communication Ministry, speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shlomo Filber, director of the Communication Ministry, speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The director general of the Communications Ministry on Thursday was accused of sending classified internal documents to the heads of Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications firm, and making changes based on their suggestions which were worth hundreds of millions of shekels to the company.

The allegations were raised as part of an escalating investigation into corruption involving Bezeq, which dominates the local communications market and has in recent months been pushing for regulatory permission to merge its mobile, fixed-line, satellite TV and internet subsidiaries. The company is under investigation on suspicion of fraud, breach of trust, corporate officers’ offenses, and obstruction of legal proceedings. A State Comptroller’s report on Wednesday also said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to disclose his personal connection to Bezeq head Shaul Elovitch in a conflict of interest declaration when he was serving as communications minister.

The Israel Securities Authority told Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Thursday that Shlomo Filber “acted systematically, deliberately and continuously” to send classified documents, internal working papers, correspondence and minutes of inter-ministerial discussions to the office of Bezeq head Elovitch. This was allegedly done secretly, without the knowledge of the professional or legal bodies in the ministry.

The recipients at Bezeq would allegedly send their opinions on the documents back to Filber, including corrections which would further the telecommunication firm’s strategic, tactical and business goals. These amendments then became the basis for future discussions within the ministry, the court was told. The suggestions, which allegedly advanced Bezeq’s interests in many cases, became final policy decisions.

Investigators collected evidence which showed that Filber worked fraudulently to promote Bezeq’s interests within the Communications Ministry, the court heard.

Shaul Elovitz, Bezeq owner (Calcalist screenshot)
Shaul Elovitch, Bezeq owner (Calcalist screenshot)

Filber was sent to two weeks of house arrest and barred by the court Thursday from having contact with any other people tied to the probe — including Communications Ministry employees. He is also prohibited from accessing his computer or any materials on it, according to Hebrew media reports. He also may not leave the country for 180 days and was ordered to post a bond of NIS 400,000 ($113,000).

Elovitch is being investigated for fraud, breach of trust, and interference in the course of justice, and was put under house arrest for nine days.

Bezeq CEO Stella Handler was also sent to house arrest for nine days.

The prosecution said in court that, “these are offenses of fraud and breach of trust by the Director General of the Communications Ministry, who was in contact with the suspect and gave him material information from the regulatory work that was not supposed to be in the hands of Elovitch.”

The judge said that it was impossible to ignore the “reasonable concerns” of wrongdoing and that the suspicions were on “a completely different level from those in the previous hearing.”

On Wednesday, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira released a report which was critical of the ties between the ministry and the telecommunications firm.

“The promotion of Bezeq’s interests, without a professional examination of the implications, was likely to cause real damage to competition and the public interest,” the report read.

Bezeq, the nation’s largest fixed-line provider, dominates the local communications market.

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