Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a conference in Tel Aviv on February 14.
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s adviser Nir Hefetz is suspected of having offered the job of attorney-general to former judge Hila Gerstl in 2015, in exchange for a commitment to close the criminal probes against Sara Netanyahu.
Sara Netanyahu was under investigation at the time for a range of alleged offenses in the Prime Minister’s Residence Affair.
A statement police issued on Tuesday did not mention Hefetz or Gerstl
by name, but confirmed that a top jurist who was on the official short list for the attorney-general position had been offered the position by an unnamed suspect as part of a bribery scheme.
Hefetz, who was already an adviser to the prime minister, allegedly approached Gerstl through an associate of the ex-judge, Eli Kamir, and relayed the offer. Kamir, who is also under investigation, then purportedly relayed the offer to Gerstl, who rejected it out of hand.
Ultimately, Avichai Mandelblit was appointed attorney-general and took office in February 2016, but the police said that they were cracking down on the attempted bribery scheme in any case, to root out any crimes committed. Mandelblit has informed Sara Netanyahu that he plans to indict her, though she will appear at pre-indictment hearings before him, to try to convince him of her innocence.
Reportedly, Hefetz made his approach to Gerstl following Mandelblit appearing before the Attorney-General Selection Committee and convincingly declaring that as attorney-general, he would unhesitatingly investigate the prime minister if necessary. Until that point, Mandelblit was the prime minister’s favored candidate.
The new scandal appears to have come out as part of probing Hefetz’s involvement in the Bezeq media affair, an investigation into whether aides to Netanyahu, and possibly the prime minister himself, arranged favorable treatment for Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage from the Walla media outlet. Shaul Elovitch is a lead suspect and owns both Bezeq and Walla.
The police brought Hefetz to court on Tuesday to extend his detention beyond Thursday, which the court had already granted in the Bezek media affair, in order to question him further about the new case.
Though the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court rejected the extension request in the morning, by Tuesday afternoon, the Tel Aviv District Court had accepted the police’s request on appeal and ordered both Hefetz and Kamir detained until Sunday.
Netanyahu immediately said that he did not believe Hefetz made such an offer.
He again accused forces of trying to topple him through a nondemocratic “crusade.”
He said that all changes to state policy regarding Bezeq were vetted and approved by officials at the professional expert level. However, previous reports have indicated almost universally that the bulk of the professional level was opposed to the Bezeq policy changes in question.
Further, the Tel Aviv District Court described the evidence as overwhelmingly strong, and law enforcement officials were quoted as saying that with a witness such as Gerstl testifying that the bribe offer was made to her, the case was a slam dunk.
Unlike the other probes involving Netanyahu or his aides, which must prove issues circumstantially or involve state’s witnesses with complex issues, Gerstl is considered to be of unimpeachable character, and there is no obvious counter-explanation for why she would confirm the bribery allegations other than their being true.
The police have indicated attempts to get Hefetz or another former top Netanyahu aide, Shlomo Filber, a central character in the Bezeq media affair, to turn against the prime minister as a state’s witness. Tuesday’s developments appeared to strengthen their hand for what they could hold over Hefetz to obtain such a deal.
A major new spin-off development from the newly revealed Attorney-General Job Affair came out a few hours later on Tuesday afternoon, when it was reported that the police would question Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on Tuesday night. The court spokeswoman refused to confirm or deny the development.
Reportedly, Gerstl confided in Hayut at the time about the offer that had been made to her. Neither Gerstl nor Hayut reported the incident to police. It is unclear why Gerstl and Hayut did not report the incident to police, and there has been no talk yet of consequences for them, particularly since Gerstl turned the offer down unambiguously.
Though Gerstl was questioned on Monday and a request to question Hayut was made on Monday, their roles were only revealed on Tuesday, in a dizzying rollout of developments.