PM’s wife asked official to slow help to mogul after poor news coverage – report

In fresh leak from Case 4000, state’s witness Nir Hefetz tells police he was sent to tell top communications official to ease up on regulatory change that would benefit Elovitch

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife Sara at a welcoming ceremony for the Brazilian president at Ben Gurion Airport on March 31, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife Sara at a welcoming ceremony for the Brazilian president at Ben Gurion Airport on March 31, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara asked a key official to slow down regulatory efforts to assist a media tycoon after she became unhappy with the way a news site he controlled was portraying the Netanyahu family, Channel 12 reported Sunday.

The revelations come from fresh leaks of  transcripts of police interviews with state witness Nir Hefetz in the Case 4000 corruption investigation.

Hefetz, a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is a key witness in the case, which involves suspicions the premier pushed regulations benefiting Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site. It is considered the most serious of the three graft cases facing Netanyahu.

The transcripts appear to indicate that there was an understanding between the Netanyahu family and the Elovitch family and Sara felt they were not living up to their end of the deal.

In the transcripts, Hefetz tells investigators that at one stage she asked him to convey a message to then-Communications Ministry director general Shlomo “Momo” Filber, telling him to go slow on the help to the Elovitch family because she was unhappy with the recent coverage on Walla.

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)

“There was a meeting outside Momo’s house where I told him that Sara asked that he not go forward too fast, that he not run with the issues of Shaul Elovitch, and that was because of the Netanyahu family’s disappointment with the way the Walla site was portraying them,” Hefetz says.

“In one of our meetings she told me, ‘tell Momo not to help Shaul so much.’ One general sentence; and  you have to say, to Netanyahu’s credit, that he always emphasized that in any situation where Sara says something, it has to go through him. You don’t do it unless you get his permission. I assume that Momo had similar instruction, but after she asked me, I passed on her request to Momo,” Hefetz tells police.

The interrogator then asks if Hefetz deviated from Netanyahu’s standing orders.

“It was half a deviation, because with Momo, it’s in the family, everything is within the inner circle. Sarah told me that (Momo) would stop helping them. Sarah is a person of black and white, she has no nuances of grey. If she is angry with the Elovitch family, then it’s stop,” said Hefetz.

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

“I don’t recall her exact words, but the message was clear: Stop helping Elovitch in the Communications Ministry issues. It was unequivocal,” he said.

Police then asked why he felt the need to pass the message to Filber.

“I goofed. I should have told her to tell him herself, I mean, she has contact with him and she was not my boss. Her requests was based on the campaign that (Netanyahu’s son) Yair was waging at the time, that Walla was a hostile site, that Shaul and Iris (Elovitch) were ungrateful and not genuine friends of the Netanyahu family if that was the way the site was handled.”

In the transcripts Hefetz also described how the Elovitch family were viably distressed by criticism from Yair and Sara and asked him to intervene.

Netanyahu slammed Sunday’s Channel 12 report as consisting of “yet another edited transcript, presenting a warped picture.” He also condemned the “flood of illegal leaks whose only goal is to carry out a kangaroo trial in the court of public opinion.”

The cases have seen near daily leaks of transcripts from inside the investigation and in recent days there have been allegations of police misconduct in the interrogation of Hefetz.

Hefetz turned state’s witness after being arrested and questioned over a two-week period, and is believed to have provided prosecutors with key information about the period when he served as an informal interlocutor between Netanyahu and Elovitch.

On Sunday Hefetz angrily stormed out of a court hearing on whether to remove a gag order on details of the police investigation in his case.

“You’re spilling my blood. Just lead me to the gallows,” Hefetz shouted at the Tel Aviv District Court judge for permitting an open hearing.

Nir Hefetz arrives at court in Tel Aviv, November 10, 2019. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

At the Knesset last week, Likud Justice Minister Amir Ohana violated the gag order in a speech railing against what he said was police misconduct in leaning on Hefetz to testify against Netanyahu, revealing details of alleged illegitimate pressure tactics used by investigators that had been sealed by the court.

Filber has also turned state’s witness

After winning elections in 2015, Netanyahu, also communications minister at the time, booted out the ministry director-general Avi Berger and instead installed Filber, a long-time ally and his campaign manager.

Netanyahu is suspected of an illicit quid pro quo with Elovitch that continued for about four years, until early 2017. The alleged understanding saw Elovitch ensure favorable coverage of Netanyahu at Walla, Israel’s second largest news site, alongside critical coverage of Netanyahu’s rivals, especially in the 2013 and 2015 election periods. In return, Netanyahu allegedly intervened in regulatory and other business decisions that benefited the Israeli tycoon by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The probe is the most serious of the three investigations into the prime minister, as it includes a proposed bribery charge for both Netanyahu and Elovitch.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in all the cases against him, accusing the media and legal establishment of leading a witch hunt to oust him.

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