The police announced on Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former top communications aide, Nir Hefetz, signed a deal to turn state’s witness against the prime minister, the day after he was released from police custody.
According to the deal, Hefetz received full immunity from prosecution, will receive no jail time and pay no fine.
Reports said Hefetz decided to turn state’s witness after the police persuaded him that there was no chance Netanyahu would not be convicted, so there was no point in continuing to defend him.
The reports said Hefetz’s decision to turn against Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, came after police leaked statements she made about Hefetz in her questioning on Friday.
Hefetz was also angered by the prime minister postponing his own questioning even though he knew it meant Hefetz would suffer longer in prison.
All other details of the deal remain under a court gag order.
Hefetz himself is a suspect in Case 4000, the Bezeq Affair, as well as in the “Attorney-General Job Affair,” and his turning state’s witness could be yet another blow to Netanyahu’s legal defense.
The reports were unclear regarding which of the affairs Hefetz would provide information against Netanyahu, but Hefetz worked extremely closely with both the prime minister and Sara Netanyahu, who is also a suspect in Case 4000.
According to reports, even as lawyer Yaron Kostovitz has represented Hefetz in trying to free him from police detention, lawyer Ilan Sofer had secretly been meeting with law enforcement officials on Hefetz’s behalf to work out a plea deal.
Also according to reports, another major consequence of Hefetz’s deal is that the Attorney- General Job Affair will be closed.
Even after Hefetz agreed to reveal everything to investigators, which may include key points against Netanyahu in Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, he stood by his story that neither he nor the prime minister had hatched a plot to bribe ex-judge Hila Gerstl with the job of attorney-general in exchange for closing the Sara Netanyahu cases.
Rather, reports say that the picture which emerged from his testimony – fully cooperating along with Gerstl and the middle-man, Eli Kamir – was that Hefetz had tossed out the idea at least half jokingly in discussions initiated by Kamir and Gerstl.
In this narrative, Gerstl asked Kamir to contact Hefetz to find out if Netanyahu might support her candidacy for the job.
When Kamir asked Hefetz, the spontaneous response from Hefetz, without speaking with Netanyahu, was that Avichai Mandelblit was their preferred candidate, but that maybe if Gerstl did something major, like agree to close the Sara Netanyahu cases, they would reconsider their position.
With no charges to file against Netanyahu, with Hefetz gaining immunity and not really having plotted anyway and with Kamir and Gerstl merely trying to campaign and not having expected Hefetz’s reaction, law enforcement does not seem to see a basis to continue the case.
HEFETZ WOULD NOT be the first major Netanyahu aide to turn state’s witness and testify against him.
In Case 4000, former Netanyahu campaign manager and director-general of the communications ministry Shlomo Filber, as part of a plea deal, has accused the prime minister of directing a complex media bribery scheme.
In the scheme, Filber and Netanyahu allegedly guaranteed state policies favorable to Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister by the major news site Walla! Former Netanyahu chiefof- staff Ari Harow also turned state’s witness to assist the prosecution in Cases 1000, the “Illegal Gifts Affair,” and 2000, the “Yediot Ahronot
Affair,” but there are no indications that he has directly incriminated Netanyahu the way Filber has.
Earlier, the prime minister’s associates said that “the race after state’s witnesses proves that the police have nothing, and will have nothing.”
Hefetz, together with Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch, were released from police custody by the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Sunday, but were ordered to remain under house arrest
until March 13.
The only exceptions to the house arrest are for traveling to their lawyers’ offices, and even that can only be done upon notifying the police in advance.
Both Hefetz and Elovitch had several other conditions imposed regarding their releases as part of the ongoing investigation into Case 4000.
They each had to post NIS 50,000 bail, and be obligated to pay a potential total of NIS 200,000 as part of the bail process.
Elovitch also cannot leave the country for six months, cannot enter a Bezeq office for 45 days, and cannot contact other suspects in the case for 90 days.
Likewise, Hefetz cannot enter a government office for 45 days and cannot contact other suspects in the case for 90 days.
Judge Ala Masrawa made an exception from the restriction on Elovitch’s contact with other suspects to allow him to speak with his wife, Iris, and his son, Or, who are also suspects.
Officially, they are not allowed to speak about the case.
But it appeared that the police’s complex simultaneous six-person interrogation on Friday was partially designed to get all the information they needed prior to releasing the Elovitch family, presuming that preventing them from discussing the case could be difficult.
ON FRIDAY, Netanyahu was questioned for five hours
regarding Case 4000. He confirmed that he contacted Elovitch, but said it was out of “ideological motives,” Channel 10 News reported on Saturday night.
Netanyahu said that he never talked with Elovitch about giving benefits to Bezeq, nor did he say that he would act on Elovitch’s behalf in exchange for favorable coverage, according to the report.
“Never happened,” he was quoted as telling the investigators.
While the prime minister was questioned, his wife, Sara Netanyahu; Elovitch; Elovitch’s wife, Iris; Hefetz; and a former senior official in the Communications Ministry who is considered close to Netanyahu were also all being questioned.
Both the prime minister and his wife were reportedly confronted with recordings submitted to the police by Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua, in which Elovitch and his wife can be heard pressuring Yeshua to implement favorable coverage for the couple.
In one text message, Iris Elovitch told Yeshua, “Help us because the Netanyahus are helping us and they will [keep] helping us.”
Sara Netanyahu also denied any wrongdoing in her questioning, according to reports.
She told interrogators that her husband “did not know about her text messages with Iris Elovitch.”
“I asked her as a friend to carry out favorable coverage on Walla, from ideological motives. I never dealt with benefits to Bezeq,” she was quoted as saying by Channel 10 News.
It was previously reported that Sara Netanyahu texted Iris Elovitch in 2015 regarding an article that was published on Walla, reprimanding her about it.
“You are killing me. You are slaughtering us. You are ruining the country,” she wrote.
“What kind of a website is this?” she asked. “What’s going on here? Change it. Do something about it. You are the owners of the website. Do it quickly.”
The Netanyahus are expected to be questioned again shortly after returning from the US.
The prime minister is also expected to be questioned about Case 3000, the “Submarine Affair.”