Netanyahu trial

Key state witness ends testimony, says was ‘very difficult’ to go against Netanyahu

Nir Hefetz, a former aide to ex-premier, wraps up 5 weeks of hearings in high-profile corruption trial, telling reporters: ‘I only went with the truth’

Nir Hefetz arrives for a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, December 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Nir Hefetz arrives for a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, December 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After more than five weeks and 17 hearings, a former close confidant of Benjamin Netanyahu ended his testimony Wednesday in the corruption trial against the ex-prime minister, capping key testimony by the state witness that could make or break the prosecution’s case.

Wednesday’s hearing at the Jerusalem District Court ended the cross-examination of Nir Hefetz, who said afterward it had been exceptionally difficult for him to testify against his former boss.

“I feel relief after five weeks on the podium, in front of a series of the most senior lawyers in the country,” Hefetz told reporters. “This is it. I hope I have managed to bring my humble angle to the pursuit of the truth.”

“It was an almost impossible ordeal to stand in such a trial against Netanyahu,” he said. “It was very difficult mentally and emotionally. I only went with the truth. I hope I’m saying goodbye to the security guards for the rest of my life.”

Hefetz added that after breaking four years of silence on the matter, he still preferred not to discuss the content of his testimony publicly.

Hefetz is the state’s key witness in the trial against opposition leader Netanyahu, who faces charges in three separate graft cases: fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Case 4000.

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)

In Case 4000, the most serious against the former premier, he is alleged to have worked to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of controlling shareholder of the Bezeq media company Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage on the Walla news site owned by Elovitch.

In Case 1000, he is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

Wednesday’s hearing mostly related to Case 2000, in which Netanyahu is accused of attempting to make a deal with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes for softer coverage of him in exchange for legislation to curb the reach of rival daily Israel Hayom. Mozes faces bribery charges in the case.

Israel Hayom, a right-wing newspaper widely considered to be a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, started operating in 2007 under Sheldon Adelson, who died earlier this year. It quickly overtook Yedioth Ahronoth — until then Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper — in circulation, thanks to its aggressive dissemination and free distribution.

After he had been grilled by lawyers for the prosecution, for Netanyahu and for Elovitch, Wednesday’s relatively short hearing included cross-examination by Iris Niv Sabag, the attorney for Mozes, as well as a brief additional round of questions from prosecutors.

Questioned by Mozes’s lawyer, Hefetz said a years-long high-profile battle between the newspapers, which included frequent public mudslinging by Israel Hayom against Yedioth Ahronoth, was “actually only about Netanyahu, about his continued leadership.”

“The person who initiated and advanced this battle, using it as a tool against someone regarded as an enemy for a decade,” he said, apparently in reference to Mozes, “was Netanyahu. It could have ended or escalated in accordance with his wish.”

Arnon Mozes seen during a court hearing in Jerusalem, on December 28, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

On Tuesday, Hefetz told the court that the former prime minister had actively pushed for the establishment of the free tabloid in order to blunt Yedioth, which he considered hostile to him. He said there were times when Netanyahu demanded that Israel Hayom go after Mozes.

“I was witness to conversations in which Netanyahu demanded that Israel Hayom go full force after [Arnon] Mozes personally,” Hefetz said.

He alleged Netanyahu threatened Mozes by saying that he had “personal information” about him, but was never privy to what information the former prime minister supposedly had.

During Monday’s testimony, Hefetz detailed the animosity between Netanyahu and Mozes, saying the former premier viewed the Yedioth publisher as “his true opposition.”

Netanyahu denies all allegations against him, and says the charges were fabricated by a biased police force and state prosecution service, overseen by a weak attorney general, in league with political opponents and the media.

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