State to examine if Netanyahu trial witness violated deal and should be prosecuted

External attorney appointed to investigate whether former Netanyahu aide Shlomo Filber’s shifting testimony invalidates his state witness agreement

Shlomo Filber, former director-general of the communications ministry, testifies in a trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, May 18, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shlomo Filber, former director-general of the communications ministry, testifies in a trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, May 18, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An external attorney has been appointed to review whether Shlomo Filber, a former confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, should be prosecuted after he allegedly violated his state witness agreement by giving testimony in court that differed from the account of events he had given in earlier questioning.

Filber, who served as director-general of the Communications Ministry under Netanyahu and is a key witness in the premier’s graft trial, testified in Case 4000, considered the most serious of the three cases against Netanyahu.

During the investigation, Filber turned state witness and gave testimony in which he incriminated himself and Netanyahu, who at the time of the alleged crimes in 2014-2017 served as communications minister as well as prime minister.

However, when he appeared in court last year, Filber’s testimony was viewed as vastly different from the account he gave earlier.

Nissim Marom, who led the prosecution of notorious mobster Yitzhak Abergil, has been tapped to examine whether Filber should be charged. According to the Haaretz newspaper, Marom is viewed as experienced in reviewing state witness agreements.

Filber’s shifting recollections frustrated the prosecution, which had relied on his testimony to undergird its allegations that Netanyahu traded regulatory approval of a merger involving the Bezeq telecommunications giant in exchange for control over how he and his family were portrayed by Walla, a popular news site owned by Shaul Elovitch, who also owned Bezeq.

File: Then-former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 17, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The prosecution at one point sought to declare Filber a hostile witness due to the discrepancies in his story regarding Netanyahu’s actions.

Filber has accused police interrogators of trying to manipulate him during their investigation of him.

The prosecution maintains that despite Filber’s differing versions of events, the allegations still stand.

In Case 4000, Netanyahu faces charges of bribery and fraud and breach of trust.

After taking over as communications minister, Netanyahu fired ministry director-general Avi Berger in May 2015, and appointed long-time ally and former campaign manager Filber in his stead.

Berger has testified in the trial that he was fired for refusing to approve the merger of Bezeq and the Yes satellite TV company.

Shaul Elovitch arrives for a hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the District Court in Jerusalem, May 2, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In addition to pushing to approve the merger with Yes, prosecutors allege that Netanyahu gave Bezeq significant preferential treatment in other regulatory decisions.

For example, in 2014, Israel launched a wholesale market reform to open up to competition the fixed-line telephony and internet market, dominated by Bezeq. According to the planned reform, as described by the indictment, by March 2017 Bezeq was supposed to lease out its infrastructure to telecom competitors such as Partner Communications Co. and Cellcom so they could provide competing fixed-line and internet services. With Filber overseeing the implementation, Bezeq reneged on its obligation.

Allegedly at the behest of Netanyahu, Filber started hindering the rollout of the reform. Bezeq was no longer threatened with fines for not adhering to the timetable for the reform. And, the charge sheet continues, neither did Filber approve the administrative orders necessary to advance the process — such as setting out the procedures by which the various telecom operators should interact with each other in sharing infrastructure.

As a result, the deployment of high-speed fiber-optic cables that would have given millions of Israelis infrastructure for cheaper and faster internet, and ensured the country’s capacity to maintain a global competitive edge, was significantly slowed.

In addition to Case 4000, Netanyahu is also on trial for two additional counts of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000, which concerns gifts he allegedly inappropriately received from billionaire benefactors, and Case 2000, in which the former prime minister allegedly negotiated to obtain positive media coverage in a newspaper in exchange for curtailing its competitors.

Netanyahu has said he is the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy and has called the allegations baseless.

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