Prosecutors in the corruption trial of presumed incoming premier Benjamin Netanyahu sought to have a key witness declared hostile, after she alleged during testimony Tuesday that police investigators tried to intimidate her and said that some of her statements to officers were deceitfully extracted and taken out of context.
The three-judge panel at the Jerusalem District Court rejected the request but permitted the prosecution to ask leading questions — generally only permitted in a cross-examination — in response to the testimony of Yifat Ben Hai Segev, who served as head of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council and is a witness in so-called Case 4000.
Prosecutors in the case allege that Netanyahu approved regulatory decisions benefiting controlling Bezeq shareholder Shaul Elovitch to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels. Netanyahu, who was prime minister and communications minister at the time, is accused of pushing for approval of a merger between Bezeq, the country’s largest telecom firm, and the Yes satellite provider. In exchange, he is suspected of receiving positive media coverage from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site.
During questioning by police, Ben Hai Segev, whose council needed to sign off on the Bezeq-Yes deal, reportedly told investigators that close associates of Netanyahu pressured her into fast-tracking the merger.
However, in court on Tuesday, she testified that Avi Berger, who served as director-general of the Communication Ministry before being replaced by current state witness Shlomo Filber, used his authority to prevent her from pushing ahead with the merger, including by delaying funding for the cable authority.
Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh noted that Ben Hai Segev had not said that when she had been questioned by police.
“Because I wasn’t asked,” Ben Hai Segev responded before launching into an attack on the integrity of the police interrogators.
“I underwent a careless, biased, and amateur investigation that aimed at creating fear and dread in unacceptable, inhumane conditions, which should disturb everyone in the State of Israel,” she said.
Ben Hai Segev claimed that when she asked to see some of the documents and dates she was questioned about, investigators refused.
She said some of her statements to police “are the result of deception and things that were taken out of context” and charged that investigators had tried to “gaslight” her.
“I knew the things I was being told were not true,” Ben Hai Segev said, adding that she had afterward checked her own files to make sure she was correct. She described telling an investigator “to not put words in my mouth and that he had presented me with a wrong and incorrect assumption.”
Ben Hai Segev also claimed that during an interview session that lasted 10-12 hours, she was given nothing but one cup of tea, her phone was confiscated, and she did not use a restroom.
Tirosh then asked that Ben Hai Segev be declared a hostile witness and that the trial adjourn until the following day. The judges refused, but let prosecutors instead treat Ben Hai Segev as if they were cross-examining, meaning they could ask leading questions.
In response to the follow-up questions, Ben Hai Segev said she had begun dealing with the Bezeq-Yes merger before receiving a request from Netanyahu, who she added reached out to her on the matter before Filber addressed it with her.
She also noted that she was asked by investigators why she updated Filber about the deal, as he was not her boss.
“I reported to him because he reports to the minister, because the minister requested,” Ben Hai Segev said.
Netanyahu led his Likud party to victory in November 1 elections and is in negotiations to form the next government. He is currently on trial in three separate cases, including Case 4000 where he is charged with bribery and fraud and breach of trust.
Another of the cases centers on accusations that Netanyahu accepted expensive gifts from wealthy acquaintances, while in the third prosecutors say he conspired with the publisher of a leading newspaper to advance legislation curbing the reach of a rival daily in exchange for positive coverage, though no such quid pro quo was ever implemented.
Netanyahu denies wrongdoing in all three cases and has claimed without evidence that the charges are an effort by the media, political rivals, prosecutors and law enforcement to force him from power.