In fresh broadside, Netanyahu lashes police for using state’s witnesses

Innocent people are put under ‘intense pressure and told to lie’ about false allegations, just so they will ‘dish the dirt’ on the PM, he says

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacks the police over the use of state's witnesses in a video clip filmed from the US, March 7, 2018. (Screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacks the police over the use of state's witnesses in a video clip filmed from the US, March 7, 2018. (Screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ​​took to Facebook Wednesday to lash out against investigators, ​accusing them of engaging in a conspiracy to bring him down that includes encouraging false testimony and illegally pressuring witnesses, in a fresh attack on police amid ongoing corruption investigations against him.

Taking aim at the practice of using state’s witnesses — suspects involved in a case who agree to give testimony implicating others of potentially more serious crimes in return for lighter punishment — Netanyahu said that innocent people are put under “intense pressure and told to lie” about false allegations.

“They take people whom they accuse of having committed some crime. They put them under custody, put them through horrors, and say to them, ‘Your life is over. Your family’s life is over. We will take nearly every thing from you, your freedom too. You want to be saved from all this? There is one way — to disgrace Netanyahu,'” the prime minister said in a stunning accusation against the Israel Police, made in a Facebook post and parallel video he posted.

“It doesn’t matter if you tell delusional lies, the main thing is that you disgrace Netanyahu,” he continued.

The comments came two day​s​ after a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family, Nir Hefetz, agreed to testify against his former boss, the third former close aide to the prime minister to agree to cooperate with police.

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)

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, including the Bezeq probe, known as Case 4000, and the so-called Case 1000, which involves suspicions Netanyahu recieved gifts from businessmen in exchange for favors.

Netanyahu, however, said the apparent need for a state’s witness proved that he was in fact innocent.

“When there is something real, you don’t need state’s witnesses, and when there is nothing, a thousand state’s witnesses won’t help. This obsessive search for a state’s witness and another state’s witness and another states witness is the best proof of all that there is nothing​,” he charged.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid reacted to Netanyahu’s latest assault on the police by posting on Facebook, “With all the understanding of his distress, a prime minister cannot tell his citizens that the police, the prosecutors, the courts and the whole system of law are occupied with advancing ‘crazy lies’ and that they cannot be relied upon.”

On Tuesday, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich defended judicial officials’ deals with former aides to Netanyahu, saying state’s witnesses were more valuable for fighting corruption.

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations annual mission in Jerusalem on February 20, 2018. (Avi Hayoun/Conference of Presidents)

“I will repeat what the state prosecutor said — ‘State’s witnesses are one of the most important tools for preventing crime organizations and public corruption,'” Alsheich said, quoting State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. “They tell the full story, a stronger, stable and open testimony, of course backed up by other proof, greatly strengthens the case.”

Alsheich, speaking at Sapir College’s Sderot Conference for Society, said compromises sometimes needed to be made to fight graft.

“Our goal is to reduce corruption,” he said. “Not to show that we succeed in convicting someone; to reduce corruption.”

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.

The so-called 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.

Officials told Hadashot 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.

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.

Shaul Elovitch arrives for extension of his remand in case 4000 at the Magistrate’s Court in Rishon Lezion, February 18, 2018. (Flash90)

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, who has denied the charges in all of the corruption cases against him, concluded his Facebook post by saying that the latest developments would not effect his work as prime minister.

“They will continue what they are doing and I will continue what I am doing, with historic activity here [in the United States] for the sake of the state of Israel. The coming days will tell ​how important this visit was for the security of Israel,” he said of his five-day visit to the US that included talks with President Trump about the possibility of annulling the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

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