State witness Nir Hefetz on Sunday 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.
“It’s a scandal,” he said. “You’re going to get me killed.”
Hefetz, a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is a key witness in Case 4000, 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.
Media outlets had requested a partial removal of the gag order on the case.
Opposing the lifting of the order, lawyer Shuli Eshbol argued that another figure linked to the case would be exposed.
Hefetz’s lawyers argued that opening the hearings violated his privacy and could increase “threats and pressure on a state’s witness,” which were being directed at him “by none other than the prime minister.”
After the hearing, Hefetz said that his testimony was “unvarnished truth” and predicted that the court would agree should the case against Netanyahu come to trial.
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.
Ohana described how investigators called in a woman who was not directly connected to Case 4000 for questioning, asked her “invasive and intrusive” questions about her relationship with Hefetz, then engineered an “accidental” meeting between the woman and Hefetz in the hallway.
When the two met, investigators allegedly told Hefetz, according to Ohana, that “we know everything and will drop a bomb on your family.”
Ohana continued: “Then Nir surrendered, signed a state’s witness agreement and gave police his version.” He went on to accuse police investigators of tampering with the new witness’s testimony.
Ohana’s comments were met with immediate condemnation by opposition lawmakers. Responding to the public furor caused by Ohana’s statements, Netanyahu issued a laconic defense of court gag orders that also reiterated the extortion claim.
“Though the case of the extortion of state’s witness Nir Hefetz is extremely serious and should worry every citizen, a court-imposed gag order should be respected,” the prime minister said.
Hefetz lashed Ohana on Wednesday, calling his claims “shameful and disgraceful” in a statement delivered by his attorney Ilan Sofer.
“It’s shameful and disgraceful for a justice minister to run roughshod over the law and scorn an explicit gag order by the courts, from the Knesset podium,” Sofer said.
He called the Likud minister’s comments “a shameful attempt to score political points while seriously harming [Hefetz’s] privacy,” vowing Ohana’s actions “will not go unanswered.”
Channel 12 also quoted a source “close to Hefetz” on Wednesday evening insisting there was “no connection” between police questioning and Hefetz’s decision to turn state’s witness.
Hefetz is reportedly threatening to sue Ohana and Netanyahu’s son Yair, who tweeted further details shortly after the speech.
Vague claims about the investigators’ conduct were first reported Tuesday by Channel 12 news, but details could not be reported by the outlet due to the court-imposed gag order on the case.
Those details were cleared for reporting when Ohana made his comments in the Knesset Wednesday, as Israel’s Basic Laws stipulate that all Knesset plenum debates must be open to the public and their content permitted for publication.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit issued an unprecedented rebuke of a serving justice minister on Wednesday, saying Ohana’s claims were an attempt to “mislead the public” for Netanyahu’s political benefit.
Mandelblit, in a joint statement with State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, vowed not to get dragged into litigating Netanyahu’s corruption investigation in public, as the premier’s political allies were trying to force him to do.
“These extremely serious claims distort reality…. They are part of a series of partisan and incomplete reports in recent days meant to mislead the public. They misrepresent the facts and the chronology of events in the course of the investigation,” Mandelblit and Nitzan’s statement charged.
The comments highlighted the growing animosity between Netanyahu’s Likud and the state prosecution amid the looming prospect of an indictment in the three corruption cases against the prime minister.
Mandelblit, who served as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary and was appointed by him to the attorney general post in 2016, is widely believed to be planning to formally indict the prime minister on corruption charges in the coming weeks.
Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing in any of the cases, has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution designed to oust him from power.
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.
Channel 12 news on Monday shared other transcripts of statements Hefetz gave, in which he spoke of trouble accurately remembering details of the case, changed his testimony on several occasions and mentioned meetings that apparently did not take place.
On Tuesday, Mandelblit vowed to look into possible wrongdoing by investigators. The head of the Israel Bar Association also called for an immediate and open inquiry into the accusations.
Mandelblit said in a statement Tuesday that “if it is found that illegitimate actions were carried out in the handling of the cases, the issue will be reviewed and dealt with accordingly.”