Court extends remand for ex-Netanyahu spokesman, Bezeq owner

Court extends remand for ex-Netanyahu spokesman, Bezeq owner

Nir Hefetz said to have remained silent during questioning in corruption case; judge orders state witness Shlomo Filber detained for 15 days in undisclosed location

Nir Hefetz appears in a Tel Aviv court on February 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
Nir Hefetz appears in a Tel Aviv court on February 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Several key suspects in a major corruption case had their detention extended at a Tel Aviv court on Thursday, including the owner of Israel’s largest telecom company and a state witness who has reportedly agreed to give information that could incriminate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Former Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber, who on Tuesday signed a deal with authorities in the Bezeq case, also known as Case 4000, had his remand extended on Wednesday by 15 days. He is to stay during that time at a facility in an undisclosed location.

Filber has reportedly agreed to testify that he was instructed by Netanyahu to provide regulatory benefits to telephone company Bezeq in exchange for Bezeq’s chief shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, giving Netanyahu and his family positive coverage on the Walla news site, which Elovitch owns.

Filber is said to have continued testifying Thursday to police and to the Israel Securities Authority. Also giving testimony are many current and former employees at Walla, including journalists Avi Alkalay and Dov Gil-Har.

Shlomo Filber, director-general of the Communications Ministry, arrives for extension of his remand in Case 4000 at the Magistrate’s Court in Rishon Letzion, February 18, 2018. (Flash90)

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Thursday also extended the remand of Shaul Elovitch, the owner of the Walla news website and the controlling shareholder of Bezeq.

Elovitch, who has been implicated in the quickly ballooning corruption scandal, was ordered held behind bars for an additional four days, as was his wife, Iris.

Netanyahu was acting communications minister at the time when several allegedly illicit deals were made with Elovitch, one of which included helping Bezeq buy the satellite cable provider Yes, overriding antitrust issues raised by ministry officials. The prime minister, who is reportedly suspected of furthering that deal, denies any wrongdoing. Elovitch also denies any wrongdoing.

During the hearing, Elovitch was heckled by a social activist who called him a “robber.”

Shaul Elovitch arrives for extension of his remand in case 4000 at the Magistrate’s Court in Tel Aviv, February 22, 2018. (Flash90)

“Are you a state witness yet? Maybe open up on Netanyahu and save us from this tyrant already?” Barak Cohen shouted at Elovitch, whose attorney Jack Chen responded by telling Cohen, “Shame on you.”

The presiding judge reprimanded security personnel for failing to stop the incident.

Chen said during the hearing that investigators told Elovitch that he was “done” and that “when you are released you’ll be a supermarket security guard.”

Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz said during Iris Elovitch’s hearing that the case is seeing “a continuously growing suspicion of grave offenses, and in the case of the suspect — grave obstruction offenses.”

In two separate remand hearings — for his involvement in two corruption probes — former Netanyahu family spokesman Nir Hefetz’s remand was extended first by three days and then by two additional two days. Police said he was proving uncooperative and refused to answer questions over his alleged involvement in the Bezeq affair and in a separate probe dubbed Case 1270.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara attend the inauguration of a new emergency ward at the Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon on February 20, 2018. (Flash90)

The affair involves Hefetz allegedly offering in 2015 to have judge Hila Gerstel appointed attorney general if she agreed to halt an investigation into the prime minister’s wife, Sara. Netanyahu, who has not been named as a suspect in the case, has strongly denied having anything to do with the incident, and said he thought it highly unlikely that Hefetz had advanced any such idea.

Hefetz’s lawyer Yaron Kostelitz decried the detention conditions, claiming police weren’t allowing Hefetz to change his clothes or take a shower.

Hefetz, who was unshaven, also told the court he was being allowed only few hours of sleep a night and was “exhausted,” according to Hadashot news.

He also claimed that when he felt unwell and asked to see a doctor, he was rebuffed by police. “I collapsed on the cell floor, and only then did a medic come,” Hefetz told the court.

Investigators are seeking to persuade Hefetz to turn state’s witness, according to Hebrew media reports.

Last week, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for fraud, breach of trust and bribery in two other cases.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, totaling NIS 1 million ($282,000). In return, Netanyahu is alleged by police to have intervened on Milchan’s behalf in matters relating to legislation, business dealings, and visa arrangements.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

The prime minister has also been linked indirectly to Case 3000, a large investigation into suspected corruption surrounding a multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels and submarines from a German shipbuilder. While Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect, close associates of his, including two personal aides, have been arrested or questioned.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in all the cases.

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