In rare on-record denial, police say ex-PM aide didn’t testify against ministers

In rare on-record denial, police say ex-PM aide didn’t testify against ministers

Nir Hefetz, who became a state's witness earlier this week, was reported to have told investigators he has incriminating information on senior officials in ruling party

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Nir Hefetz, then-editor in chief of the Maariv newspaper, attends an Economic Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, September 27, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Nir Hefetz, then-editor in chief of the Maariv newspaper, attends an Economic Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, September 27, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In a rare public statement refuting a media report on an ongoing investigation, police denied Thursday that Nir Hefetz, the former media adviser to the Netanyahu family who became a state’s witness earlier this week against the prime minister, had given investigators potentially incriminating evidence against four senior Likud officials, including two sitting ministers.

“The reports include incorrect information that could mislead the public,” the police said in an unusual statement specifically denying that the police were behind the publication of such information.

According to a report by the Hebrew-language Ynet news website early Thursday, Hefetz provided police with information on backdoor deals conducted by ministers in the governing party that included an alleged conflict of interest and official misconduct.

The deals related to regulation in the healthcare system, real estate, and “an explosive issue related to the environment that is still at the heart of the public agenda,” the report said, without elaborating further.

The report did not name the Likud ministers, nor officials that Hefetz was supposedly referring to.

Noting that the police do not normally refute “disinformation spread via the media or on social media,” the statement said that in this “sensitive case” and due to the implications of such a claim, they have decided to make an exception.

“So far, no such information or anything similar has been given to the police,” the statement said, concluding with a harsh rebuke of recent media interest in the case and reports over Hefetz’s testimony. “Any report regarding the investigation has the potential to damage the case and break a court imposed gag-order preventing the publication of details from the state’s witness’ testimony.’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nir Hefetz arrive at the weekly cabinet meeting held in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. Sunday, Dec 13, 2009.(Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Earlier this week, Hefetz became the third former close aide to the prime minister to agree to cooperate with police.

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 received gifts from businessmen in exchange for favors.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu ​​took to Facebook 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.

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.

“It doesn’t matter if you tell delusional lies, the main thing is that you disgrace Netanyahu,” he continued. Netanyahu, however, said the apparent need for a state’s witness proved that he was in fact innocent.

His comments were swiftly condemned by opposition leaders.

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)

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

“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.”

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 Bezeq’s controlling shareholder Shaul 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.

read more: