Netanyahu on prosecutors’ request to amend corruption indictment: ‘In your face’

The prosecution has asked the court to change the charge sheet after seemingly self-contradicting testimony by key state witness Shlomo Filber

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A seemingly upbeat Benjamin Netanyahu arrived on Monday at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his ongoing corruption trial.

Speaking to the media before taking his seat, the opposition leader said: “That’s what’s known as ‘in your face,'” using an English phrase, when asked about prosecutors’ request this week to amend a section in the indictments.

The request, filed on Sunday, was made following last week’s testimony by state witness Shlomo Filber.

Asked by Netanyahu’s lawyers last week about a specific meeting with the former prime minister upon beginning his role as director of the Communications Ministry, Filber said he might have misinterpreted a hand gesture made by Netanyahu.

Evidence from Filber, a close Netanyahu aide who turned state witness, is an essential element of the prosecution’s case in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is accused of providing lucrative benefits to Shaul Elovitch, then-owner of Bezeq and the Walla news site, in exchange for favorable coverage.

During an early investigation carried out by the Securities Authority in 2017, Filber said he understood the gesture as meaning “drop the whole thing,” in the sense of “tell Elovitch we can’t help him.”

However, later when being questioned by police, Filber told them he understood the gesture as “moderately lower prices,” which is what the prosecution claims Elovitch had asked Filber to do in order to limit competition with other communications companies.

Filber then testified last week that his original testimony given to the Securities Authority might be correct, noting that it was a matter of “interpretation.” The prosecution on Sunday requested that the indictment be altered to state that the alleged meeting was held “after defendant Netanyahu decided on Filber’s appointment,” and not after he had already been appointed.

The former communications ministry director’s cross-examination by Netanyahu’s legal team continued during the hearing on Monday.

Asked about a meeting that took place between him and Bezeq advisor Eli Kamir, Filber said that it took place after he was allegedly instructed by Netanyahu to start aiding Elovitch.

When Netanyahu attorney Boaz Ben Zur confronted him with the fact that Kamir told the police that the meeting never took place, Filber assured him that it did take place, adding that he “remembered it because I went there with an errand to run.”

When Ben Zur then lashed out at Filber for changing his testimony “in order to hurt Netanyahu and protect himself,” Filber maintained that he remembers the meeting “but not its content.”

Shlomo Filber, former director-general of the Communications Ministry, at a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem District Court, on March 29, 2022 (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Case 4000 is considered the most serious of the three cases against the former prime minister.

Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that immensely benefited Bezeq — the country’s largest telecommunications firm — and its owner Elovitch, despite opposition from Communication Ministry officials. In exchange, he allegedly was given what amounted to editorial control over Elovitch’s Walla news site.

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases. He faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000. He denies wrongdoing and says the charges were fabricated in a political coup led by the police and state prosecution.

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