3rd PM associate to agree to testify against him

Top ex-Netanyahu adviser turns state’s witness against him in Bezeq probe

In dramatic development marking an additional blow to PM, Nir Hefetz signs agreement to join Shlomo Filber in testifying on Case 4000

Nir Hefetz, longtime aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Netanyahu family, arrives for extension of his remand in case 4000 at the Magistrate's Court in Rishon Lezion, February 18, 2018. (Flash90)
Nir Hefetz, longtime aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Netanyahu family, arrives for extension of his remand in case 4000 at the Magistrate's Court in Rishon Lezion, February 18, 2018. (Flash90)

Nir Hefetz, a former top media adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s family, has turned state’s witness in the Bezeq corruption probe, in a dramatic development that could strengthen the evidence against the prime minister in the quickly ballooning case.

“A state’s witness agreement was signed last night between the Israel Securities Authority’s Investigations, Intelligence and Market Surveillance Department and Israel Police’s national anti-fraud unit Lahav 433 and Nir Hefetz,” police said in a statement on Monday.

Hefetz joins Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of the Communications Ministry and a longtime Netanyahu confidant, who also signed a deal last month to turn state’s witness and possibly incriminate Netanyahu in the affair.

Netanyahu dismissed the police announcement, saying it proves “there is nothing” to the suspicions against him.

“When there is something [of substance] there’s no need for even one state’s witness. When there is nothing, not even a thousand state’s witnesses will help,” sources close to Netanyahu said. “The unending race for state’s witnesses is the best proof that there is nothing — and there won’t be anything.”

A lawyer for Hefetz met several times last week with senior police officials to discuss details of the agreement, the Ynet news site reported earlier on Monday.

Hefetz was released to house arrest Sunday morning, after 15 days in police custody, along with the majority shareholder in the Bezeq telecommunications company, Shaul Elovitch, another high-profile suspect in the case.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the Muni World conference in Tel Aviv on February 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

The Case 4000 investigation involves suspicions that Elovitch ordered the Walla news site, which he owns, to grant fawning coverage to the Netanyahus in exchange for the prime minister’s advancement of regulations benefiting him financially.

Elovitch is suspected of giving and receiving bribes and illicit favors worth “up to a billion shekels” (more than a quarter of a billion US dollars), prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh of the Israel Securities Authority said last week during a hearing. Netanyahu and Elovitch have dismissed the allegation.

Hefetz will also testify against Netanyahu in the so-called Case 1000 corruption probe, the Ynet news site reported.

Ilan Sofer, a senior criminal lawyer who previously led to another suspect — Miki Ganor — turning state’s witness in a separate case linked to Netanyahu, Case 3000, has been secretly working with police and the Israel Securities Authority in parallel with the ongoing investigation, according to the report.

Sofer did not immediately respond to a Times of Israel request for comment.

Communications Ministry Director-General Shlomo Filber at a Knesset committee meeting, on July 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite Filber having already turned state’s witness, investigators are said to believe that Hefetz could contribute significantly to the investigation and therefore worked to recruit him as well.

Hefetz’s lead counsel, Yaron Kostelitz, told Ynet he did not represent state’s witnesses, and has resigned.

Netanyahu served as communications minister from November 2014 to February 2017. During that time, Walla’s coverage notably changed to favor the Netanyahu family, and Bezeq was given permission, among other things, to buy the satellite cable provider Yes, overriding antitrust issues, and to renege on its commitment to lease out its infrastructure to telecom competitors, so they could provide competing fixed line and internet services.

Officials also told Hadashot TV on Friday that suspicions against Netanyahu in the investigation are more serious than the accusations in the previous cases, 1000 and 2000 — in both of which police recommended he be indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and bribery.

Ari Harow, Netanyahu’s chief of staff for a year from mid-2014, last year turned state’s witness and agreed to provide information about those two cases in return for a lighter punishment for separate charges against him relating to an alleged conflict of interest over a business he held.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in any of the cases.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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