State witness Filber recounts ‘unusual’ call from Netanyahu asking on Bezeq dealings

Former Communications Ministry director says call was meant to ‘monitor’ his actions on telecom giant; admits to deleting messages from Bezeq officials during his investigation

Shlomo Filber, former director general of the Communications Ministry, at a court hearing in the trial against former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem, on April 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shlomo Filber, former director general of the Communications Ministry, at a court hearing in the trial against former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem, on April 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Testifying on Tuesday in the corruption trial of ex-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber admitted to deleting text messages he had received from people of interest while being investigated in the case, and recounted details of an unusual phone conversation with Netanyahu regarding the Bezeq telecom giant.

Filber, a former Netanyahu confidant and key state witness, said he had deleted WhatsApp messages from former Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch and former Bezeq CEO Stella Handler.

Asked by prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh whether he had deleted messages relevant to the ongoing case while being investigated by the Securities Authority, Filber said that he had, but only because the memory on his phone was full.

“I deleted a big pile of very heavy accounts,” he said in court. “My phone had reached a 96% memory capacity. I deleted Stella, Shaul, a family group, and a group of my community, people I had been messaging constantly,” he added.

“It was heavy. I never deleted any email or tampered with evidence,” he stated.

Evidence from Filber, a former official who was once close to Netanyahu, is regarded as a potentially central part of the prosecution’s case against the former prime minister in Case 4000.

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem, on March 28, 2022. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool)

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases. He faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Case 4000. He denies wrongdoing and says the charges were fabricated in a political coup led by the police and state prosecution.

Case 4000 is the most serious of the three cases against the former prime minister. Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that immensely benefited Elovitch and Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, despite opposition from Communication Ministry officials. In exchange, he allegedly was given what amounted to editorial control over Elovitch’s Walla news site.

Earlier Tuesday, Tirosh asked Filber about a phone call he received from Netanyahu in 2016 while the prime minister was serving as communications minister, several months after Filber was allegedly asked by Netanyahu to advance regulatory reforms that would benefit Bezeq.

“He [Netanyahu] asked me where things stood regarding Bezeq. I don’t exactly remember the wording he used, but he asked me what I was doing within the ministry to address the issue,” Filber said. “I briefly went over everything with him.”

Prosecutors Judith Tirosh and Liat Ben Ari arrive for a court hearing in the trial against former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem, on April 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After being pressed by Tirosh with follow-up questions, Filber said the phone call was considered “unusual.”

Filber said: “When you receive a phone call from Netanyahu on the weekend, it means someone talked to him, pressured him, brought something to his attention.”

Filber also addressed another phone call he had received from Netanyahu, following the publication of an article by The Marker about the relationship between Netanyahu and Elovitch.

“The Marker published an article about Bezeq, saying that Netanyahu and Filber were giving Elovitch billions,” Filber said in court. “And then he [Netanyahu] called me. He sounded worried and asked me what my name was doing there.”

Asked by the presiding judge, Moshe Bar-Am, whether Netanyahu sounded concerned about the publication, Filber replied: “Yes, he was concerned.”

Shlomo Filber, former director-general of the Communications Ministry, at a court hearing in the trial against former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem, on April 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last week, Filber described the former premier as image-obsessed.

“Netanyahu is hands-off, lets you do your work, he doesn’t get involved in the details. Except when it has to do with things that really matter to him — like media,” Filber testified.

Filber is currently being cross-examined by the prosecution, with the state’s attorneys seeking to confront him on the differences between his testimony to police versus his statements to the court.

Prosecutors have accused Filber of reversing course and downplaying, in court, Netanyahu’s direct involvement in events and the impact it had on Filber’s actions.

Last week, the prosecution requested to treat Filber as a hostile witness due to the changes in his testimony. However, it later agreed not to do so at this time, so long as it was allowed to cross-examine him.

When a witness is declared hostile, prosecutors can cross-examine him as well as appeal to judges to give more weight to his previous statements than to the testimony he gave in court.

Filber has denied any attempts to mislead the prosecution or give contradictory testimony, explaining any difference in his statements as the result of the “complexity of the situation” and blaming police interrogators for trying to simplify his statements.

“I tried to explain the complexity [of the situation] to the police investigators, but they did not want to hear,” Filber told the court last week. “They did not want to get the full picture from me — just ‘yes or no.’”

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