Ex-Netanyahu confidant turned key state’s witness to begin testimony in graft trial

Nir Hefetz’s appearance in court was delayed by a week amid revelations of fresh evidence against former PM; he’s expected to testify to widespread meddling in media landscape

Illustrative: Nir Hefetz, former spokesman of Benjamin Netanyahu, is pictured outside a Jerusalem court house, on November 16, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / POOL / AFP)
Illustrative: Nir Hefetz, former spokesman of Benjamin Netanyahu, is pictured outside a Jerusalem court house, on November 16, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / POOL / AFP)

Nir Hefetz, a former aide and confidant to Benjamin Netanyahu, will take the stand on Monday as a state’s witness to give what is expected to be key testimony in the ex-prime minister’s corruption trial.

Hefetz will provide testimony in Case 4000 — one of three against the former premier. Netanyahu, who is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in this case, and fraud and breach of trust in the two others, says the cases against him were fabricated by the police and prosecution and denies any wrongdoing.

Hefetz was set to have taken the stand last week, but his testimony was delayed by a defense request to provide time for the examination of new revelations in the case regarding further expensive gifts that the former prime minister’s family allegedly received illicitly from wealthy benefactors.

In Case 4000 Netanyahu is alleged to have worked to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of Bezeq’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, in exchange for positive coverage on the Elovitch-owned Walla news website. Netanyahu is accused of abusing his powers when he served as both prime minister and communications minister from 2014 to 2017.

Hefetz is expected to testify to the deep involvement of the ex-premier’s wife and son in the country’s media landscape while he was in office.

Hefetz recently sat down with state prosecutors to prepare for his testimony and some details from the meeting were leaked to Channel 13 last week.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives for a court hearing in his trial, November 16, 2021 in Jerusalem. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The former Netanyahu aide will testify that the former premier’s wife Sara was involved in the hiring of spokespeople in the Prime Minister’s Office, according to the transcripts.

Hefetz will also highlight the family’s “obsession” with the media, particularly the Walla news site at the center of Case 4000. Spokespeople were made aware that part of their job was to “correct the historical injustice done to Sara Netanyahu as a result of her husband’s public role,” Hefetz told prosecutors.

The prime minister’s wife has often been depicted unflatteringly in the media for alleged abusive conduct toward staff.

Hefetz will testify that Netanyahu was aware that some of his aides, namely Jonathan Urich and Topaz Luk, were tasked with matters relating to defending Sara in the public sphere.

He also says Netanyahu and his wife were heavily involved, and even initiated, some of the hit-pieces against the former caretaker of the Prime Minister’s Residence, Meni Naftali, after the latter accused the couple of excessive spending and misuse of public funds.

The former aide will also reveal the extent of the Netanyahu family’s involvement in salvaging the hard-right Channel 20 news outlet, which faced collapse in the previous decade.

Hefetz says Netanyahu’s son Yair sought to involve himself in the hiring of reporters at the network, sending a list of names that the channel should pick from. When the candidates were not chosen, Yair sat down with the network’s executives to voice his frustration, Hefetz says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara address their supporters on the night of the Israeli elections, at Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on March 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

He also will testify that Yair and Sara Netanyahu were involved in the hiring of Eran Tiefenbrunn as an editor at Walla. Sara Netanyahu conditioned her consent to Tiefenbrunn’s hiring on the latter’s agreement to write columns against Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes — who is facing charges in a second case against Netanyahu — “so that he would be savaged,” Hefetz told prosecutors.

Meanwhile, the defense is expected to play excerpts from video tapes made during Hefetz’s interrogation by police that  and will argue that Hefetz was illegally pressured into turning state’s witness and his testimony is invalid, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday.

With regards to allegations of wrongdoing by his interrogators during his imprisonment and questioning, Hefetz told prosecutors that he planned to sue the state.

Hefetz turned state’s witness after being arrested and questioned over a two-week period and is believed to have provided prosecutors with key information as an interlocutor between Netanyahu and Bezeq’s Shaul Elovitch.

Hefetz made thousands of recordings of conversations during his years working with the Netanyahus.

Last week Hefetz also filed a police complaint after a supporter of the former prime minister was heard making death threats against him outside the courthouse.

The man in question could be heard shouting “Nir Hefetz should die, Nir Hefetz should not live” into a megaphone at a rally outside the Jerusalem District Court, where Hefetz had been set to testify in the case against Netanyahu, who also appeared in court that day.

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