In return for testifying against him, Netanyahu confidant won’t get jail time

Shlomo Filber reportedly expected to incriminate prime minister in probe over alleged benefits for Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage of PM on news website

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Shlomo Filber, director-general of the Communications Ministry, arrives for extension of his remand in Case 4000 at the Magistrate's Court in Rishon Letzion, February 18, 2018. (Flash90)
Shlomo Filber, director-general of the Communications Ministry, arrives for extension of his remand in Case 4000 at the Magistrate's Court in Rishon Letzion, February 18, 2018. (Flash90)

In return for his testimony against the prime minister, Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of the Communications Ministry and longtime confidant of Benjamin Netanyahu who has turned state’s witness in the Bezeq corruption investigation, will not face time in jail, a report said Wednesday.

Under the deal, Filber has reportedly agreed to confess to conduct unbecoming of a public official and face a disciplinary hearing by the Civil Service Commission. He also agreed to a lifetime ban from working in the civil service sector, Hadashot news reported.

Filber has reportedly agreed to testify that he was instructed by Netanyahu to provide regulatory benefits to telephone company Bezeq in exchange for Bezeq’s chief shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, giving Netanyahu and his family positive coverage on the Walla news site, which Elovitch owns.

In his testimony to police, Filber also said Netanyahu explicitly told him to show favoritism to Bezeq, and that his tenure at the communications ministry left him feeling like a pawn.

“I carried out explicit instructions from Netanyahu, none of it was at my discretion,” he said. “I received detailed instructions from him. I was a prisoner.”

“I understand that they exploited me,” Filber said. “I didn’t initiate any of this. All of this was planned even before my appointment to the ministry.”

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

Filber said he gave a “very detailed” account to police in his questioning on Tuesday.

Filber, who was arrested earlier this week and has been remanded until Thursday, signed a deal to turn state witness against Netanyahu early Wednesday morning after questioning by police at the Lod headquarters of the anti-fraud unit Lahav 433.

This week, Aviram Elad, the editor of Walla, gave testimony at the Israel Securities Authority (ISA) over the alleged tilting of the website’s coverage in favor of the prime minister.

Other senior figures at Walla, including news department head Michal Klein and former chief editor Yinon Magal, also testified at the ISA office this week, according to the Ynet news website.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are also expected to be questioned in the probe, reportedly as suspects.

Stella Handler, CEO of the Bezeq telecom company, appears in the Tel Aviv District Court on February 21, 2018. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Netanyahu was acting communications minister at the time when several allegedly illicit deals were made with Elovitch, one of which included helping Bezeq buy the satellite cable provider Yes, overriding antitrust issues raised by ministry officials. The prime minister, who is reportedly suspected of furthering that deal, denies any wrongdoing.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court extended the remand of Bezeq’s CEO and a top executive implicated in the quickly ballooning investigation.

Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz ordered Bezeq CEO Stella Handler to remain in custody until next Tuesday.

Handler is a central figure in the investigation, dubbed Case 4000, and is suspected of bribery, violating securities law, disrupting legal proceedings and breach of trust.

At a consecutive remand hearing, Poznansky-Katz also ordered Bezeq official Amikam Shorer to remain behind bars until Tuesday. Shorer is suspected of bribery and breach of trust.

Last week, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for fraud, breach of trust and bribery in two other cases.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, totaling NIS 1 million ($282,000). In return, Netanyahu is alleged by police to have intervened on Milchan’s behalf in matters relating to legislation, business dealings, and visa arrangements.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his wife Sara Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 28, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool)

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

The prime minister has also been linked indirectly to Case 3000, a large investigation into suspected corruption surrounding a multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels and submarines from a German shipbuilder. While Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect, close associates of his, including two personal aides, have been arrested or questioned.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in all the cases.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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