Top Netanyahu ex-adviser said poised to turn new state’s witness in Bezeq probe

In dramatic development, Nir Hefetz reportedly in ‘final stages’ of talks with police, as a second former aide is named as a suspect in the case

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Nir Hefetz appears in a Tel Aviv court on February 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
Nir Hefetz appears in a Tel Aviv court on February 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

A dramatic development was reported on Monday in the Bezeq corruption probe involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with his former media adviser said to be the latest of his close associates in talks to turn state’s witness.

A lawyer for Nir Hefetz, the Netanyahu family’s former top media adviser, met several times last week with senior officials in the Israel Police’s anti-fraud unit Lahav 433 to discuss details of a possible agreement, the Ynet news site reported.

An agreement for Hefetz to become state’s witness has not yet been signed, due to disagreements regarding the exact conditions, the report added, although the negotiations were said to be in the final stages.

Hefetz was released to house arrest Sunday morning, after 15 days in police custody, along with the majority shareholder in the Bezeq telecommunications company, Shaul Elovitch, another high-profile suspect in the case.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the Muni World conference in Tel Aviv on February 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

The Case 4000 investigation involves suspicions that Elovitch ordered the Walla news site, which he owns, to grant fawning coverage to the Netanyahus in exchange for the prime minister’s advancement of regulations benefiting him.

Ilan Sofer, a senior criminal lawyer who previously led to another Netanyahu associate — Miki Ganor — turning state’s witness in another case, has been secretly working with police and the Israel Securities Authority in parallel with the ongoing investigation, according to the report.

Sofer did not immediately respond to a Times of Israel request for comment.

Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of the Communications Ministry and a longtime Netanyahu confidant, signed a deal last month to turn state’s witness and possibly incriminate Netanyahu in the Bezeq affair.

Communications Ministry Director-General Shlomo Filber at a Knesset committee meeting, on July 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite Filber having already turned state’s witness, investigators are said to believe that Hefetz could contribute significantly to the investigation and have therefore attempted to recruit him as well.

Hefetz’s current lead counsel, Yaron Kostelitz, told Ynet he did not represent state’s witnesses, and he is therefore expected to resign if an agreement is signed.

In a separate development Monday, another Netanyahu aide was revealed to be a additional suspect in the Bezeq probe, Israeli media reported.

Eitan Tzafrir, a close associate of Netanyahu, who was his bureau chief while communications minister, is reportedly suspected of brokering bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. He was questioned on Friday at the same time as Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, Hefetz, Shaul Elovitch and his wife, Iris. After 14 hours, Tzafrir was released to house arrest.

Tzafrir has previously been questioned in the case at the Israel Securities Authority, but as a witness, not as a suspect.

Eitan Tzafrir, former bureau chief of the Communications Ministry. (Courtesy: GPO)

Tzafrir’s attorneys said he had resigned from his Communications Ministry post after several months, when Filber was appointed director-general. “Anything that happened after he left was without his knowledge, and he had no connection whatsoever with decisions regarding Bezeq which were all approved after he had left the job.”

Netanyahu served as communications minister from November 2014 to February 2017. During that time, Walla’s coverage notably changed to favor the Netanyahu family, and Bezeq was given permission, among other things, to buy the satellite cable provider Yes, overriding antitrust issues, and to renege on its commitment to lease out its infrastructure to telecom competitors, so they could provide competing fixed line and internet services.

Officials also told Hadashot TV on Friday that suspicions against Netanyahu in the investigation are more serious than the accusations in the previous cases, 1000 and 2000 — in both of which police recommended he be indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and bribery.

Ari Harow, Netanyahu’s chief of staff for a year from mid-2014, last year turned state’s witness and agreed to provide information about those two cases in return for a lighter punishment for separate charges against him relating to an alleged conflict of interest over a business he held.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in any of the cases.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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