When history looks back on the era of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Case 4000 – referred to as the “Bezeq-Walla! Affair” – may be what brought him down.
Whenever Netanyahu steps down, the next blockbuster question will be whether he is found innocent at trial after a presumed indictment, or he finds himself behind bars like former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Envisioning the future, what are the key arguments that both sides will make that will determine the outcome of a trial stemming from Case 4000?
After years of The Jerusalem Post having access to top sources on both the prosecution and defense sides of the Netanyahu corruption cases, it is clear the tipping point was definitively Case 4000.
With regards to Case 1000 (“the Illegal Gifts Affair”) and Case 2000 (“the Yediot Aharonot-Israel Hayom Affair”), the Post reported that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit had holdups as long as they stood without Case 4000.
It was only when Case 4000 came around – which led former top Netanyahu aides Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz to turn against their ex-boss and become state’s witnesses – that Mandelblit decided he was ready to move forward with indictments which could topple the government. So we peer into the future to that all important trial.
CASE 4000 has two main elements.
The first is that Netanyahu fired Communications Ministry director-general Avi Berger and hired his loyalist and ex-campaign manager Filber in order to ensure a government policy that improperly favored Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch.
The second is that in exchange for the positive treatment of Bezeq, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, directed Bezeq’s online news site Walla to give him favorable coverage. This was arranged through Elovitch, his wife, Hefetz, and some of Elovitch’s top Walla employees.
If true, this would constitute bribery, as Netanyahu worked to set government policies that would increase monetary profits for Elovitch in exchange for positive media coverage.
Netanyahu will attack this theory head-on.
He will say that the favorable government policy that Filber approved as head of the Communications Ministry – the approval of a merger between Bezeq and Yes, which is another company that Elovitch had ownership rights in – was approved by apolitical experts. Among those experts were a senior official at the Antitrust Authority and the legal adviser to the Communications Ministry.
If these apolitical officials approved the merger, even if the merger did end up leading to a windfall of between NIS 680 million to NIS 1 billion for Elovitch (depending on measuring direct versus indirect profit), Netanyahu will ask: How could the merger be illegal?
Netanyahu will also attack the heart of the second prong necessary to make out a bribery case against him in Case 4000: the idea that he obtained positive media coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla in exchange for his assisting Elovitch in the business sphere.
He will argue that Walla historically and currently has been demonstrably hostile to Netanyahu.
THE DEFENSE will contend that the long list of Walla employees who have claimed that there was interference on the prime minister’s behalf by Elovitch, Elovitch’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, Hefetz and others displayed their anger at attempts at balanced coverage and merely shows their anti-Netanyahu bias.
But the biggest argument that the defense will make is that the merger between Bezeq and Yes occurred in June 2015 – following the election in March 2015 that Walla had covered with relative hostility toward Netanyahu.
Put differently, the defense will note that the most critical time Netanyahu would have wanted to arm-twist for positive coverage would have been leading up to the March 2015 elections, at which point they say he received negative coverage instead. After that negative coverage, what would Netanyahu owe Elovitch? And in any event, they will say, a corrupt official would no longer need to try to control Walla reports three months after being re-elected. So why act improperly to improve a merger for Elovitch at that point?
Finally, Netanyahu will argue that any campaigning by Sara Netanyahu, Hefetz or anyone else for “more balanced coverage” is a part of the game that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and then-Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog played just as hard as the prime minister did.
The prosecution will likely respond that the testimony it has is so detailed and comprehensive about unprecedented interference by Netanyahu, Elovitch and those acting on their behalf, that the case is a slam dunk.
They will say that some negative articles about Netanyahu do not explain away problematic interventions and conduct in other instances.
A review of the instances in which it is claimed that there was an illegal Netanyahu-Elovitch intervention reveals that accusations date back to before the 2015 election, but that most of the egregious examples came afterwards.
The prosecution will say that the fact that the prime minister could have acted more aggressively and corruptly leading up to the 2015 elections, does not excuse him for his later actions.
They will note that the full scope of claims from top Walla officials, who all point fingers at Netanyahu and Elovitch – like CEO Ilan Yeshua, editor Avi Alkalai, various reporters, and Hefetz himself, now that he has turned state’s witness – are a damning combination for the two.
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