Family 'wields power over premier in national affairs'

Netanyahu said to favor son’s opinion in defiance of security chiefs – report

PM’s former confidant Nir Hefetz, who turned state’s witness, reportedly says Yair prompted decisions that ‘harmed Israel’s national interests’; premier rejects claim as ‘nonsense’

Former media adviser to the prime minister Nir Hefetz arrives for a remand hearing in Case 4000 at the Tel Aviv District Court, February 22, 2018 (Flash90)
Former media adviser to the prime minister Nir Hefetz arrives for a remand hearing in Case 4000 at the Tel Aviv District Court, February 22, 2018 (Flash90)

Newly announced state’s witness Nir Hefetz is reportedly set to testify to police on two recent security incidents in which, pressured by his wife and son, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made decisions that contradicted the positions of his professional advisers, including the heads of Israel’s Mossad spy agency and Shin Bet internal security service.

Netanyahu’s son Yair is expected to be called in for questioning in the matter, as is his wife, Sara, Channel 10 news reported Monday.

Netanyahu in a statement called the report “nonsense.”

According to another report, in Hadashot news, Hefetz told associates that Yair Netanyahu had dramatic influence over Netanyahu, who, “inspired and influenced by his son Yair, showed national irresponsibility and made decisions that harmed Israel’s national interests and security.”

“I admire [Netanyahu],” Hefetz reportedly said, “but he’s in the thrall of his wife and son, and they wield power over him in national affairs.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second left, and his wife Sara, second right, tour in Tel Gezer and Magshimim Forest together with their sons Yair, right, and Avner, left, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, October 21, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Hefetz claimed that Yair Netanyahu’s actions were what led him to leave the prime minister’s service in October of 2017.

“Yair caused damage to his father and the state. That’s why I left,” he said, according to the report.

Netanyahu said in a statement in response that “the comments attributed to Hefetz are nonsense” and “baseless,” and claimed that Hefetz had been “entirely cut off” from intelligence and defense information “and from decision-making in those matters.”

Sources close to Hefetz — a former top media adviser to Netanyahu who on Monday became the latest ex-associate of the prime minister to agree to testify against him — said he had decided he “wouldn’t take a bullet for Netanyahu” in the Bezeq corruption probe.

“He believes the Netanyahu era is over,” the sources said, and is also “testifying for the good of the nation.”

According to Hadashot, Hefetz also told associates he realized that “there will be an indictment with or without me” and that he “opposed” Netanyahu’s constant attacks on police and law enforcement.

He was also reportedly personally hurt by the prime minister’s conduct, specifically his delay in scheduling the most recent round of questioning by police in the probe.

Netanyahu “put off his questioning for days when he knew I was under arrest because of him. While I was being held in difficult conditions, [waiting] until he deigned to be questioned, he didn’t care.”

As part of the state’s witness agreement he signed, Hefetz, suspected of bribery in the case, was told that he would not serve prison time or pay a fine for his actions. He has promised to provide police with incriminating text messages and recordings of Netanyahu and his wife in several criminal cases, including the Bezeq probe, known as Case 4000, and the so-called Case 1000.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Hadashot reported that Hefetz’s testimony could potentially prompt a “reopening” of all of the probes against Netanyahu.

A gag order has been placed on more specific details of his testimony.

According to the Walla news site, police saw Hefetz as a star witness whose testimony in the case would make it significantly stronger, and had worked hard to recruit him since his arrest two weeks ago.

Attorney Ilan Sofer, a senior criminal lawyer who previously led to another suspect — Miki Ganor — turning state’s witness in a separate case linked to Netanyahu, Case 3000, represented Hefetz in the talks, according to Haaretz.

Netanyahu on Monday dismissed news of Hefetz’s agreement to testify against him, with sources close to him saying it was merely further proof that the allegations had no meat to them.

“When there is something [of substance] there’s no need for even one state’s witness,” associates said. “When there is nothing, not even a thousand state’s witnesses will help.

“The unending race for state’s witnesses is the best proof that there is nothing — and there won’t be anything,” they said.

Hefetz joins Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of the Communications Ministry and a longtime Netanyahu confidant, who also signed a deal last month to turn state’s witness and possibly incriminate the prime minister in the affair.

Hefetz was released to house arrest Sunday morning, after 15 days in police custody, along with the majority shareholder in the Bezeq telecommunications company, Shaul Elovitch, another high-profile suspect in the case.

The so-called Case 4000 investigation involves suspicions that Elovitch ordered the Walla news site, which he owns, to grant fawning coverage to the Netanyahus in exchange for the prime minister’s advancement of regulations benefiting him financially.

Shlomo Filber arrives for the extension of his remand in Case 4000 at the Magistrate’s Court in Rishon Letzion, February 18, 2018. (Flash90)

Elovitch is suspected of giving and receiving bribes and illicit favors worth “up to a billion shekels” — more than one-quarter of a billion US dollars — prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh of the Israel Securities Authority said last week during a hearing. Netanyahu and Elovitch have dismissed the allegation.

Hefetz’s lead counsel, Yaron Kostelitz, resigned after his client signed the deal to turn state’s witness.

Netanyahu served as communications minister from November 2014 to February 2017. During that time, Walla’s coverage notably changed to favor the Netanyahu family, and Bezeq was given permission, among other things, to buy the satellite television provider Yes, overriding antitrust issues, and to renege on its commitment to lease out its infrastructure to telecom competitors, so they could provide competing fixed line and internet services.

Officials told Hadashot on Friday that suspicions against Netanyahu in the Case 4000 investigation are more serious than the accusations in two earlier cases, 1000 and 2000, in which police have recommended he be indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and bribery.

Ari Harow, Netanyahu’s chief of staff for a year from mid-2014, last year turned state’s witness and agreed to provide information about those two cases in return for a lighter punishment for separate charges against him relating to an alleged conflict of interest over a business he held.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in any of the cases.

Raoul Wootliff and Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: