Netanyahu disavows any such behavior by his former spokesman

Netanyahu aide suspected of offering AG post to judge to let PM’s wife off hook

Nir Hefetz, reportedly in talks to turn state witness in Bezeq probe, denies he offered the top legal position to Hila Gerstel in exchange for closing case against Sara Netanyahu

Former prime minister's spokesman Nir Hefetz at the Herzliya Magistrate's Court for a libel suit against him and other associates of the prime minister on December 26, 2017. (Flash90)
Former prime minister's spokesman Nir Hefetz at the Herzliya Magistrate's Court for a libel suit against him and other associates of the prime minister on December 26, 2017. (Flash90)

A former spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family is suspected of promoting a deal to give a judge the post of attorney general if she agreed to halt an investigation into Netanyahu’s wife Sara police confirmed Tuesday.

Police confirmed the details without naming those involved shortly after Maariv journalist Ben Caspit broke the news of the suspected late-2015 offer conveyed from Nir Hefetz, longtime confidant of the Netanyahu family, to the since-retired judge Hila Gerstel.

Hefetz and Communications Ministry Director-General Shlomo Filber, who have been in custody since Sunday in connection with the so-called Case 4000 involving suspected corruption involving the Bezeq telecommunications company and possibly Netanyahu himself, are in talks with police about prospective agreements to turn state witnesses.

Ombudswoman of the Prosecution, retired Judge Hila Gerstel, attends a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Israeli parliament on January 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Both Hefetz and Netanyahu refuted the police suspicion.

According to Caspit’s account, Hefetz allegedly requested a discreet meeting with an associate of Gerstel’s, strategic adviser Eli Kamir, and told him, “If you go into a closed room with justice Gerstel and check with her, would she commit to closing the investigation against Sara Netanyahu in exchange for her appointment as attorney general? What would her response be?”

Sara Netanyahu is suspected of misusing public funds at the couple’s official residences, as well as using government money to pay for private chefs at family events, a caregiver for her father and weekend electrical work at the couple’s home in the tony coastal town of Caesarea.

Eli Kamir (Hadashot news screenshot)

Hefetz, who served as the prime minister’s media adviser from 2014 to 2017, denied the allegations, telling his investigators, “It never happened, I deny any attempted bribery involving Gerstel,” Hadashot TV news reported. He also denied he was in talks to turn state witness.

Netanyahu issued a scathing response to the reported deal, denying any connection to Hefetz’s alleged offer.

“Nir Hefetz never made this absurd offer in front of the prime minister and his wife,” said Netanyahu’s office. “He was never asked to make such an offer, and we cannot believe Hefetz even considered such a thing. Soon the Netanyahu couple will be also blamed for the [1933] assassination of [Zionist leader Haim] Arlosoroff.”

Gerstel shared details of the offer with Supreme Court Judge Esther Hayut shortly after receiving it, Haaretz reported. Gerstel and Hayut, who has since been appointed president of the Supreme Court, are said to be close friends. It isn’t clear whether police know about the conversation, the report said. Hayut and Gerstel are expected be summoned by police to give testimony.

Hefetz was named early Tuesday as one of several senior officials and former officials arrested in connection with the Bezeq investigation, which primarily revolves around suspicions that Netanyahu enacted policies potentially worth hundreds of millions of shekels to Shaul Elovitch, the owner of the Walla news website and the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecom company, in exchange for positive coverage on Walla.

Shaul Elovitch, Bezeq’s controlling shareholder (Calcalist screenshot)

Also among those arrested and ordered held for five days were Elovitch, his wife, Iris; and his son Or; along with Filber; Bezeq CEO Stella Handler; and a senior Bezeq executive, Amikam Shorer.

Benjamin and Sara Netanayhu are also expected to be questioned in the probe, reportedly as suspects.

Hefetz, who is set to remain in custody until Thursday, was brought on Tuesday before a court to extend his remand further, but the court rejected the request.

Police said in a statement that two suspects had been arrested on Tuesday morning on suspicion of public corruption in connection with Hefetz’s alleged offer to Gerstel.

“During the investigation, evidence accumulated that the offenses were committed at the end of 2015, when an offer was made to a senior public official to promote her appointment to the position of attorney general, thus tilting the selection process in her favor, allegedly in exchange for a future promise by the candidate regarding a future decision in a certain criminal case, in which the suspects had interest,” police said.

“According to the evidence gathered so far, this request was ultimately unsuccessful,” the statement continued.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and his wife Sara, center-right, react during a gathering by Likud party members and activists to show support for them as they face corruption investigations, held at the Tel Aviv Convention Center, August 9, 2017. (AFP/Jack GUEZ)

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.

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.

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