Hefetz ‘wouldn’t take a bullet’ for PM, associates say

Hefetz ‘wouldn’t take a bullet’ for PM, associates say

Media adviser turned state's witness 'believes the Netanyahu era is over,' will evade prison term and fine in return for testifying

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nir Hefetz (L) as Head of the National Information Directorate arrive at the weekly cabinet meeting held in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. Sunday, Dec 27, 2009. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nir Hefetz (L) as Head of the National Information Directorate arrive at the weekly cabinet meeting held in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. Sunday, Dec 27, 2009. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Sources close to Nir Hefetz, a former top media adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu who on Monday became the latest ex-associate of the prime minister to agree to testify against him, said he had decided he “wouldn’t take a bullet for Netanyahu” in the Bezeq corruption probe.

“He believes the Netanyahu era is over,” the sources said, and is also “testifying for the good of the nation.”

As part of the state’s witness agreement he signed, Hefetz, suspected of bribery in the case, was told that he would not serve prison time or pay a fine for his actions. He has promised to provide police with incriminating text messages and recordings of Netanyahu and his wife in several criminal cases involving the prime minister, including the Bezeq probe, known as Case 4000, and the so-called Case 1000.

Nir Hefetz appears in a Tel Aviv court on February 22, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

According to the Walla news site, police saw Hefetz as a star witness whose testimony in the case would make it significantly stronger, and had worked hard to recruit him since his arrest two weeks ago.

Attorney 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, represented Hefetz in the talks, according to Haaretz.

Netanyahu on Monday dismissed news of Hefetz’s agreement to testify against him, with sources close to him saying it was merely further proof that the allegations had no meat to them.

“When there is something [of substance] there’s no need for even one state’s witness,” associates said. “When there is nothing, not even a thousand state’s witnesses will help.

“The unending race for state’s witnesses is the best proof that there is nothing — and there won’t be anything,” they said.

Police announced earlier that “a state’s witness agreement was signed last night between the Israel Securities Authority’s Investigations, Intelligence and Market Surveillance Department and the Israel Police’s national anti-fraud unit Lahav 433 and Nir Hefetz.”

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 the prime minister in the affair.

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.

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.

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

Elovitch is suspected of giving and receiving bribes and illicit favors worth “up to a billion shekels” — more than one-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’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 television 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 told Hadashot TV on Friday that suspicions against Netanyahu in the Case 4000 investigation are more serious than the accusations in two earlier cases, 1000 and 2000, in which police have 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 and Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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