Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is innocent until proven guilty.
Former Netanyahu Spokesman Signs Witness Deal In Graft Probe, March 5, 2018
But from the police perspective, if signing Shlomo Filber as a state’s witness got them a likely indictment against Netanyahu, signing Nir Hefetz makes a conviction down the road far more likely.
The prime minister’s top aides turning against and incriminating him, along with his former chief of staff, Ari Harow – who has not incriminated him, but has provided helpful details – can only be seen as bad news for his case.
Before analyzing this further, though, some fundamental truth must be admitted in the prime minister’s favor.
First, some of the items leaked from Hefetz, such as Yair Netanyahu’s influencing his father over the Temple Mount security-cameras crisis, are at most a distraction with no legal value. Police chief Roni Alsheich supported keeping the security cameras in place; besides that, what Yair Netanyahu thought is irrelevant.
Second, the prime minister’s legal team has said that the plethora of state’s witnesses, three to date in cases where he is a suspect, shows that something was missing from the previous witnesses whom the police had presented as silver bullets.
Netanyahu’s team has a strong point here.
Why offer Hefetz a plea bargain if the cases against the prime minister were a slam dunk after having signed Filber and Harow?
To make this question even stronger: Why offer Hefetz a deal with no jail time, when other state’s witnesses – like Shula Zaken against Ehud Olmert, and Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto against a former Israeli “FBI” chief – got deals that only reduced, but did not eliminate, their jail time?
The key to understanding this point is the difference between trying to achieve an indictment and trying to achieve a conviction.
Already last week, Filber had said that Netanyahu masterminded a scheme of pushing policies favoring Bezeq in exchange for positive media coverage by the Walla news site, directing him to carry it out as director-general of the Communications Ministry.
None of the previous state’s witnesses nor their evidence had the power of a top aide directly accusing Netanyahu of a crime, and a crime about which they had personal knowledge.
UNTIL FILBER, Netanyahu could claim a variety of policy reasons and alibis to explain his allegedly corrupt behavior, and all of them had a decent chance of poking a hole in meeting the indictment standard of having a reasonable chance of getting a conviction.
Filber filled that hole.
Once Filber turned on Netanyahu, his only recourse was to call Filber a liar and explain, plausibly, why Filber would accuse him of a crime. This was not an easy task since Filber did not benefit monetarily from giving Bezeq favorable treatment, nor did he get any special positive coverage by Walla.
This is exactly the kind of issue that a judge must decide, and is likely to demand an indictment.
But an indictment only gets you to trial.
At trial, a skilled defense lawyer can break down and isolate each strand of a case.
Netanyahu’s defense could say: Sure you have proof from Filber that Netanyahu ordered him to give Bezeq favorable policy treatment. You also have proof from Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua that Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch leaned on him to give Netanyahu positive coverage.
But Netanyahu says his calls to Elovitch were about ideological issues and were no different than calls he makes to other media owners. The prosecution could have attacked this explanation as unlikely given the circumstances, especially considering Sara Netanyahu’s text messages to press Walla for better coverage. But it was still a potential hole that could derail a conviction.
Filber’s value was for the Bezeq strand, but was not part of Netanyahu’s alleged campaign with Walla. So how do you prove that Netanyahu’s intent in pressing Walla for positive coverage was part of a corrupt scheme? This is the hole that Hefetz fills.
Even without Hefetz, resistance by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s office to the idea of an indictment was far weaker regarding the Bezeq-Walla Affair (Case 4000) than it has been in any of the other Netanyahu cases. But an indictment is not a conviction.
This was the secret behind the dramatic simultaneous questioning by the police of six witnesses on Friday, including the prime minister, Sara Netanyahu, Hefetz, Elovitch and Elovitch’s wife, Iris.
They wanted to wrap up the plea deal with Hefetz by leaking to him in real time new negative things the Netanyahus might be saying about him or new holes in his personal defense that conflicted with the couple’s defenses.
This also explains why it appears the police have not yet asked the prime minister in detail about Filber. They will get to that soon, but first they wanted Hefetz to fill the hole by proving Netanyahu’s alleged intent on the Walla side of the two-pronged Bezeq/Walla scheme.
For filling that hole and increasing their chances of not just an indictment, but also a conviction, they were willing to give Hefetz “half the kingdom.”
A REMAINING QUESTION is whether the possible early election would lead to a quicker decision by Mandelblit.
His predecessor, Yehuda Weinstein, after taking an exorbitant amount of time to decide about Avigdor Liberman’s criminal cases, overruled some objections so he could issue an indictment of Liberman just before the 2013 elections.
While some objected that this would look like an ambush of Liberman, Weinstein argued that he could not let voters go to the polls without knowing what the attorney-general thought of the Liberman allegations.The Jerusalem Post
has learned that the current prosecution may not be of the same mind as Weinstein.
The police already recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery in the Illegal Gifts Affair (Case 1000) and the Yediot Aharonot-Israel Hayom
Affair (Case 2000) three weeks ago.
Given the fact that Mandelblit has said he is already deeply familiar with the Bezek/Walla case, those three weeks plus the 15 weeks projected until the earliest date for an election, could absolutely be enough time to make a decision if the Weinstein approach prevails.
But the Post
received indications that no corners would be cut to race to a decision even if there was an early election.
That answer may very well change if and when an election become a fact, and until it is a fact, the prosecution has every reason to give off the vibe that it will not be rushed.
But as things stand, there could be an early election leading to another Netanyahu victory, followed by the prosecution going after the prime minister with the Harow-Filber- Hefetz hammer shortly thereafter.