Netanyahu associates probed over suspected harassment of state witness
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Netanyahu: 'This is scandalous'

Netanyahu associates probed over suspected harassment of state witness

Likud spokesman, campaign manager reportedly questioned about video alleging Shlomo Filber falsely incriminated PM in corruption probes

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on October 27, 2019. (GALI TIBBON / AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on October 27, 2019. (GALI TIBBON / AFP)

The Israel Police confirmed Thursday that it had opened an investigation into senior campaign officials in the ruling Likud party, on suspicion that they had harassed a state witness in one of the corruption cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The activists are suspected of harassing Shlomo (Momo) Filber, a former confidant of Netanyahu’s, who led Likud’s campaign in the 2015 elections before testifying against the premier in an alleged bribery case.

The suspects were named by Channel 13 as Likud spokesman Jonatan Urich and the party’s campaign manager, Ofer Golan, who is also a spokesman for the Netanyahu family.

Filber is a key witness in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulations benefiting Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage from the telecom company’s Walla news site.

Likud spokesman Jonatan Urich at a joint press conference by Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu and Zehut party chairman Moshe Feiglin at Kfar Hamacabiah in Ramat Gan, August 29, 2019. (Flash90)

Filber was director-general of the Communications Ministry, which Netanyahu headed during the period under scrutiny by prosecutors. He was arrested and questioned over his involvement in the case before turning state’s witness.

Then-Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber at a Knesset committee meeting on July 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu faces pending charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in the case. He also faces fraud and breach of trust charges in two other cases. He denies any wrongdoing. Earlier this month, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s office held a pre-indictment hearing for Netanyahu, having previously announced his intention to charge the premier in all three cases.

Golan was questioned under caution over the weekend on suspicion that in August he ordered a van sent to Filber’s home with loudspeakers blasting accusations, alleging he lied during investigations to incriminate Netanyahu and calling him a “traitor,” the Channel 13 report said.

In a video of that incident, a vehicle bearing slogans of the Bratslav Hasidic sect can be seen parked near Filber’s home, with a voice saying: “Momo, be a man! Come out, tell the truth. Momo Filber, what did they do to you to get you to lie against the prime minister? What did they promise you? Momo, the left is using you to topple Likud! Listen to what you yourself said before police pressured you.”

A recording of Filber is then heard, saying: “There is no crime here, where has this even come from? Everything I promoted was within my purview as director general.”

Urich and other top Likud activists were also questioned, or were going to be questioned, the report added.

Police later confirmed the existence of the investigation, saying in a statement that it had been going on covertly for several weeks.

“The investigation is being supervised by the state attorney and with the approval of the attorney general,” it said.

Netanyahu’s office responded with a strongly worded statement, calling the investigation “scandalous” and continuing his longtime allegation of a witch hunt conducted against him by police, prosecutors and the attorney general at the behest of the left and the media.

“The persecution doesn’t stop for a moment,” the statement said. “The ink hasn’t dried on the thousand pages of defense arguments filed by the prime minister’s attorneys in the hearing, and already they are interrogating all those close to the prime minister.

“The goal is clear: to neutralize the prime minister’s ability to fight over public opinion in the face of the flood of incessant leaks against him by harming his associates. This is scandalous.”

A composite image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch. (Flash90; Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

Amid Hadad, Golan’s lawyer — who is also representing Netanyahu — released a statement calling the suspicions “false and baseless accusations that would have better not been investigated at all. While Mr. Golan is forbidden from expressing himself on the matter to avoid obstructing an investigation, the existence of the investigation was illegally leaked.

“We have no doubt that eventually the case against Mr. Golan will be closed for the simple reason that he has never harassed state witness Filber or any other witness,” Hadad added.

The investigations against the premier have been plagued by repeated leaks of testimony from investigators.

In August, Channel 12 published leaked transcripts saying that Filber, who was appointed by Netanyahu to be director of the Communication Ministry, testified to police that the prime minister personally told him that Elovitch, the Bezeq controlling shareholder, was not happy with the way reforms in the communications and internet sector were going, and indicated to Filber that he should do something about it.

Netanyahu in response to that report described Channel 12 as a “propaganda channel” in a tweet and said that the case “is a blood libel that is not based on facts or documents but rather on the lies of state witness Momo Filber.”

Netanyahu is suspected of an illicit quid pro quo with Elovitch that continued for about four years until early 2017. The alleged understanding saw Elovitch ensure favorable coverage of Netanyahu at Walla, Israel’s second largest news site, and critical coverage of Netanyahu’s rivals, especially in the 2013 and 2015 election periods.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan on March 28, 2019. (Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s lengthy description of Netanyahu’s alleged illicit dealings with Elovitch, known as Case 4000, took up the majority of the 57-page document released in February, in which Mandelblit set out the allegations that prompted him to announce a criminal indictment against the prime minister, pending a hearing.

The second case, Case 1000, involves accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors. Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust — the latter a somewhat murkily defined offense relating to an official violating the trust the public has placed in him.

The third, Case 2000, revolves around accusations Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes, to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. In this case, Mandelblit will seek to also charge the premier with breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery, pending a hearing.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in all the cases.

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