In probe transcripts, police threaten key witness against PM with loss of assets

Further casting doubt on veracity of testimony, interrogators tell Nir Hefetz that ‘these things may not affect only you,’ according to leaked transcripts released by Channel 12

Former media adviser to the prime minister Nir Hefetz arrives for a remand hearing in Case 4000 at the Tel Aviv District Court, February 22, 2018 (Flash90)
Former media adviser to the prime minister Nir Hefetz arrives for a remand hearing in Case 4000 at the Tel Aviv District Court, February 22, 2018 (Flash90)

Police appeared to threaten a key witness in a case involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to interrogation transcripts released by Channel 12 news on Tuesday, raising further questions about police conduct during the investigation, as well as about the veracity of Nir Hefetz’s testimony.

The outlet shared transcripts of interviews with Hefetz in which he seems to be threatened by investigators who say they they will turn his life upside down and have the ability to take his assets.

“I can tell you that every corner you tried to hide during your life, we turned over and found out what you were hiding,” the investigators told Hefetz. “And all those movies and scenarios running through your head are possible.”

“It’s money. We know how to deal with money. We know how to relieve you of your assets.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and Nir Hefetz, left, arrive at the weekly cabinet meeting held in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 13, 2009. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The investigator continued to threaten Hefetz, seeming to imply that other people could also be affected.

“I’m not kidding you, Nir, and I’m not deceiving you,” the interrogator said. “Remember what I told you in our conversation? These are things that may affect not only you.”

Hefetz is a former Netanyahu spokesman and confidant and a witness in Case 4000 — the most severe of the cases facing the premier — in which Netanyahu is suspected of pushing regulatory decisions financially benefiting the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, in return for ongoing positive news coverage.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former spokesman Nir Hefetz (foreground) and Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch attend a remand hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

Hefetz turned state 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.

Channel 12 news on Monday shared transcripts of statements Hefetz gave, in which he spoke of trouble accurately remembering details of the case, changed his testimony on several occasions and mentioned meetings that apparently did not take place.

Channel 12 revealed that Hefetz may have been pressured through illegitimate means to cause him to turn against Netanyahu. It said another person with no ties to Case 4000 was brought in by police and questioned in order to pressure Hefetz to sign an agreement with authorities, and that Hefetz indeed did so following this move by police.

Further details on the person in question could not immediately be disclosed.

On several occasions as Hefetz gave testimony, he commented on his faulty memory and at one point stated: “I’ve gotten confused by what I remember from the questioning and what I actually remember, it’s mixed up.”

At another juncture he noted that “memory isn’t my strong suit. I’m not good with long-term.”

And when Hefetz said an important meeting between himself, Netanyahu and Elovitch took place days before the 2015 national election, it turned out cellular phone triangulation ruled out such a meeting. Hefetz then backtracked and said the meeting must have occurred several months earlier.

The report said Hefetz several times backtracked on his previous statements on certain details and amended them when presented with contradictory information.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (L) arrives at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem for hearings on the corruption cases in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a suspect, on October 3, 2019 (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Earlier on Tuesday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit vowed to look into possible wrongdoing by investigators and the head of the Israel Bar Association called for an immediate and open inquiry into the accusations.

Mandelblit said in a statement that “if it is found that illegitimate actions were carried out during the handling of the cases, the issue will be reviewed and dealt with accordingly.”

He added that police investigators had made it absolutely clear to state witnesses “that they are required to state only truth,” and said he felt confident that “the statements given by state witnesses were given freely and willingly.”

Avi Himi, president of the Israel Bar Association, called on Tuesday for an investigation into the claims of wrongdoing and for public disclosure of its results.

“It is unthinkable for an enforcement authority to place a gag order upon suspicions without providing the public with an explanation… such behavior could mortally damage public trust in the justice system,” he said, apparently referring to some details of the affair being withheld..

On Friday Channel 12 and Channel 13 reported that Mandelblit would be holding discussions this week with the aim of reaching a decision by the end of November on whether to file charges against Netanyahu in three graft probes, of which Case 4000 is the most serious.

(From R-L) Justice Minister Amir Ochana and Chairman of the Israel Bar Association Avi Chimi and Justice Ministry Manager Amy Palmor seen during A Council Meeting of the Israel Bar Association in Nazareth Iliit on July 16, 2019. (Flash90)

In a draft charge sheet issued in February, Mandelblit outlined charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust against the premier in Case 4000, and fraud and breach of trust in two other cases, Case 1000 and Case 2000.

Criminal charges would not be a legal impediment to Netanyahu’s running for reelection if Israel is forced into another round of elections amid its current political deadlock, but a legal battle would likely ensue were he to be reelected.

According to a Channel 13 report last week, state prosecutors have begun drafting a legal opinion recommending Netanyahu be charged in all three cases, following the completion of the hearing process last month.

Prosecutors believe Mandelblit should keep the original proposed charges intact in all three cases, unconvinced by the defense’s efforts during the hearing to refute the accusations, the report said.

Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution, designed to oust him from power.

On Friday, Channel 12 reported that Hefetz told investigators Elovitch in 2015 repeatedly pressed for the firing of the Communication Ministry’s director-general at the time, Avi Berger, in order to advance his company’s interests.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on November 3, 2019. (Oded Balilty/Pool/AFP)

Berger was opposed to Bezeq’s purchase of the Yes satellite TV provider from Eurocom Group, which was owned by Elovitch. The deal eventually went ahead and is said to have earned Elovitch hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hefetz told police that Elovitch “pushed [the issue] hard. He had conversations with me about it, too — that Bibi needs to fire [Berger] already… because he’s the one stopping it… he’s the one blocking the Yes deal.”

It was clear Elovitch wanted the message conveyed to Netanyahu, Hefetz said, adding that he often served as an intermediary between the Netanyahu family and Elovitch regarding coverage on the Walla news site, which Elovtich also owned.

Testimonies from the case have indicated that coverage of the Netanyahus on Walla was repeatedly changed and softened following demands by the prime minister’s family.

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