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State witness Filber says he advised billionaire Milchan on behalf of Netanyahu

In first testimony for Case 1000, former Communications Ministry director tells court he regularly updated then-PM on planned merger between Reshet and Keshet TV networks

Arnon Milchan (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the Knesset, on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/ File)
Arnon Milchan (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the Knesset, on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/ File)

Former Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber on Wednesday began his testimony in Case 1000, one of the three cases being deliberated in former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial.

The case involves suspicions that he illicitly accepted gifts including cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Israeli Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

Milchan was not charged in the case, while Netanyahu was indicted for fraud and breach of trust. The ex-premier is also charged with fraud in the other two cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies all wrongdoing.

Filber, a former Netanyahu confidant and key state witness, confirmed to the court on Wednesday that he aided Milchan with his planned investments in Israeli media and kept Netanyahu updated on the matter.

He recounted that in the Summer of 2015, Netanyahu introduced him to Milchan — who at the time was the owner of Channel 10 — to serve as a middleman to help Milchan with regulatory issues relating to a potential merger between Reshet and Keshet, Israel’s main two TV networks.

Filber said that shortly after the meeting, Milchan’s then-personal assistant Hadas Klein arranged a private meeting between the two.

Shlomo Filber, former director-general of the Communications Ministry, at a court hearing in the trial of former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem, on April 4, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Filber said that he frequently updated Netanyahu on his meetings with Milchan.

“He [Netanyahu] asked me to do this,” he said.

Filber also said that he recommended for Netanyahu to not object to such a merger.

After being presented by the prosecution with a text message from Klein, saying that their “shared friend” (Netanyahu) was happy to hear about the latest update, Filber said that he spoke with Netanyahu about the “progress” he and Milchan were making.

“I told them I was talking with Arnon and that we are moving forward… That whatever Milchan asks for I keep doing. He [Netanyahu] just nodded in approval and we kept going,” he said.

Filber also testified that he told Milchan’s personal accountant that if negotiations were to get underway for a merger between Keshet and Reshet, “we will not intervene or get in the way.”

Filber has so far testified in Case 4000, which is considered the most serious of the three, where he is considered a crucial witness.

In that case, Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that immensely benefited Shaul Elovitch, the owner of 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.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing in Case 4000, on February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

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, on the stand, 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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