Police chief defends deals to let suspects turn state’s witness
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Police chief defends deals to let suspects turn state’s witness

After former Netanyahu aide Hefetz agrees to testify against PM, commissioner Roni Alsheich says goal is to fight corruption, not just notch convictions

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations annual mission in Jerusalem on February 20, 2018. (Avi Hayoun / Conference of Presidents)
Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations annual mission in Jerusalem on February 20, 2018. (Avi Hayoun / Conference of Presidents)

The head of Israel’s police force on Tuesday defended judicial officials’ deals with former aides to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who agreed to testify in exchange for immunity, saying state’s witnesses were more valuable for fighting corruption.

The comments from Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich came a day after a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family, Nir Hefetz, agreed to testify against his former boss, the third former close aide to Netanyahu to agree to cooperate with police.

“I will repeat what the state prosecutor said — ‘State’s witnesses are one of the most important tools for preventing crime organizations and public corruption,” Alsheich said, quoting State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. “They tell the full story, a stronger, stable and open testimony, of course backed up by other proof, greatly strengthens the case.”

Alsheich, speaking at Sapir College’s Sderot Conference for Society, said compromises sometimes needed to be made to fight graft.

“Our goal is to reduce corruption,” he said. “Not to show that we succeed in convicting someone; to reduce corruption.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former spokesman Nir Hefetz (foreground) and Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch attend a remand hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, February 26, 2018 Flash90)

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, which involves suspicions Netanyahu recieved gifts from businessmen in exchange for favors.

Hadashot news 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.

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on February 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“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.

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.

Former Communications Ministry Director-General Shlomo Filber arrives for a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court on February 18, 2018. (Flash90)

Elovitch is suspected of giving and receiving bribes and illicit favors worth “up to a billion shekels” — more than a 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.

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 contributed to this report.

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