A skeptical state prosecution grilled former Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber on Monday, accusing him of changing the story he told investigators once he took the stand in the ongoing corruption trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Filber, a close Netanyahu aide who turned state witness, is believed to be an essential piece of the prosecution’s case in Case 4000, in which the former premier is accused of trading regulatory favors for more favorable coverage in the Walla news site.
The cross-examination, led by prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh, focused on trying to confront Filber with seemingly contradictory versions given by him when he was questioned by police versus during deliberations in court.
“Your description of cutting corners and finding shortcuts was much lighter [in court] than your description given during the investigation, which was much blunter,” Tirosh said.
Filber had been accused of skewing Communications Ministry policies to benefit Shaul Elovitch, at the time the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, and the owner of Walla.
“You said you took it to the extreme,” Tirosh added, referring to Filber’s statements to the police, when he was initially under investigation.
Tirosh has accused Filber of reversing course and downplaying, in court, Netanyahu’s direct involvement and the impact it had on those of Filber’s actions that were designed to provide Bezeq with an unfair advantage over competitors. Last week, the prosecution requested to treat Filber as a hostile witness due to the changes in his testimony. However, it later agreed not to do so at this time, so long as it was allowed to cross-examine him,
When a witness is declared hostile, prosecutors can cross-examine him as well as appeal to judges to give more weight to his previous statements than to the testimony he gave in court.
“There’s something you’re not saying [now] and have said very clearly in the past. The truth is coming out. You said that the anomalies in dealing with the structural separation of Bezeq were definitely under the direct instruction of Mr. Netanyahu, who said the positive attitude [at the ministry] toward Bezeq needs to continue. You said it came ‘above everything else,'” she charged.
Tirosh then confronted Filber with previous statements given by him during his investigation that pointed to clear instances of Netanyahu directing his policy.
Tirosh read a statement given by Filber on February 19, 2018, that read: “My judgment was contaminated due to the fact that it was clear that at the end of the day we must reach a positive outcome with Bezeq.”
Filber replied, “Yes, there were moments when I was backed into a corner.”
Tirosh continued, “You said you were being controlled, that they had the ability to determine whether or not it was happening. You said you didn’t have the option of ‘if’ but only of ‘how.'”
Filber replied, “I had the power to decide what details to add. As far as I’m concerned, my state of mind was that I wasn’t given the option not to do it.”
Filber later stated, “My position has not changed. It’s true. Elovitch said everything [he wanted] had support, and it was clear to me by who,” referring to Netanyahu.
At the start of his testimony last Wednesday, Filber said his former boss had wanted him to “mitigate” competition for the Bezeq telecom company, a regulatory move worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Filber has denied any attempts to mislead the prosecution or give contradictory testimony, explaining any difference in his statements as the result of the “complexity of the situation” and blaming police interrogators for trying to simplify his statements.
“I tried to explain the complexity [of the situation] to the police investigators, but they did not want to hear,” Filber told the court last week. “They did not want to get the full picture from me – just ‘yes or no.’”
During his court testimony, Filber has several times given slightly different accounts of events than those he gave to investigators in the past. This led prosecutors to suspect Filber was trying to undercut his former testimony by adding numerous caveats to previous statements.
After discussions between attorneys and judges on the matter last week, it was decided not to declare Filber hostile, but nevertheless to allow prosecutors to cross-examine him on the stand, which would be a key result of such a declaration.
Filber told judges at the time of the prosecution’s request that he did not see himself as a hostile witness. “I came here to tell the truth,” he said, asserting that “things have been blown out of proportion.” He said the court testimony was “difficult for me psychologically and it’s a complicated matter.”
Case 4000 is 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 Elovitch, despite opposition from Communication Ministry officials. Netanyahu denies all the charges against him.