The day that Filber may have sealed Netanyahu’s fate

Aide says he knew carrying out orders was a ‘national disaster,’ but did it anyway; PM: Report is a ‘blood libel’

August 28, 2019 02:49
The day that Filber may have sealed Netanyahu’s fate

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Shortly after winning reelection in March 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear to one of his top aides the criminal actions he needed to take as director-general of the Communications Ministry, Channel 12 reported on Tuesday night.

Shlomo Filber told police that it was clear to him that carrying out some of Netanyahu’s orders would be “a national disaster” in terms of the good of the public, but that he followed the orders anyway, according to the report.

This conversation is what led to Filber becoming the star witness to bring down the prime minister, the report said.

While it has been known for some time that Filber’s turning state’s witness in February 2018 was the key moment that turned Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit against Netanyahu in the various criminal cases, Channel 12 reported for the first time about the alleged conversation that may lead to the prime minister’s fall from power.

According to the report, Filber told police that he had a meeting with Netanyahu that started with everyone in a celebratory mood over the election win. Netanyahu then told Filber they would continue talking real business on the couch as he smoked a cigar.

Filber told police that during this conversation, Netanyahu raised two primary issues for him in his new role as Communications Ministry director-general: approving the Bezeq-Yes merger, which is at the heart of Case 4000 known as the Bezeq-Walla Affair, and moderating price changes and competition against Bezeq, said the report.

In all of this, Netanyahu made clear to Filber that he wanted to help his ally Shaul Elovitch, owner of both Bezeq and Walla.

The crux of Case 4000, the key case against Netanyahu, is the allegation that he pushed through policies to make Elovitch more than NIS 1 billion in exchange for Elovitch making sure he got positive or improved coverage at Walla.

According to the report, Netanyahu did not have a fine sense of the details, but made it clear the general direction that Filber should take.

“Don’t completely annul the [new] competition [against Bezeq], but see what can be done about the pricing [issue], maybe to moderate it or roll out [the reforms against Bezeq] over a longer period,” Netanyahu told Filber, according to the report.

“I also understand that the Bezeq-Yes merger needs to be completed” to keep Elovitch happy, Netanyahu told Filber, according to Channel 12.

“What did you understand from this?” police asked Filber.

“That there was the situation with Bezeq-Yes, that it needed to be handled and completed,” Filber responded. “You don’t need to ask him by when – because I knew this was my job. I knew the situation already or parts of it, and anything I did not know I would learn it, and I understood that there was a kind of deadline. I understood that I was obligated to do it.”

Filber added that after his meeting with Netanyahu, one of the prime minister’s top allies on the issue in the communications ministry, Eitan Zafrir, sent him a message, asking, “Is there going to be an approval soon [for the merger]? [I’m right that] you’ll approve it? Find a way to approve it.”

Filber told police that in his heart of hearts, “it was clear to me that this merger would be a national disaster [for the public], and that it was not permitted for me to do it under any circumstances” – and yet he made sure it was approved.

Netanyahu responded on his Facebook page by calling the report “a deceitful blood libel.” He said he understood now why he was not permitted by the police and state prosecution to debate Filber.

“His lies would not stand a single minute in a debate,” Netanyahu wrote.

Netanyahu said the actions Filber did were done on his own accord, and that he was blaming the prime minister to help his own case with the prosecution.

“Not only were all the decisions on Bezeq and YES approved by dozens of regulators and professionals who were not subordinate to Filber or Netanyahu, but it was under Communications Minister Netanyahu that reforms took place that made Elovitch and Bezeq lose billions of shekels, crashed Bezeq’s stock and saved citizens of Israel billions,” Netanyahu wrote.

Part of why Case 4000 is expected by many to be his political undoing is that he is facing down two long-time aides, Filber and Nir Hefetz, who know how to undermine many of his potential alibis.

In February, Mandelblit distributed a 57-page summary of the allegations, including not only the NIS 1 billion benefit to Elovitch from the Bezeq-Yes merger, but another NIS 800 million in benefits to Elovitch and added additional problematic policies that helped Bezeq beyond the merger.

That amount of money allegedly going into Elovitch’s pocket, even if parts of it can be peeled off as not being fully proven, will be something that the court will find difficult to overlook.

Moreover, the sheer volume of the number of actions – outlined publicly by Mandelblit in February – which Netanyahu and his associates allegedly took to systematically advance the scheme will be hard to rebut.

Netanyahu can note, as he did Tuesday night, that apolitical officials in multiple government agencies approved the Bezeq-Walla merger, and that Walla coverage of him over the years has been primarily negative.

But Filber’s testimony essentially makes the point that behind the scenes, Filber was twisting arms and Netanyahu was twisting his arm.

Hefetz will provide a lot of the ammunition, explaining exactly what were Netanyahu’s instructions to him, along with text messages that Elovitch sent summarizing what the prime minister wanted for positive coverage.

From Mandelblit’s documents, it is clear that Hefetz will also testify that the prime minister ordered him not to pass on any instructions from Sara or Yair Netanyahu to Walla without him reviewing their ideas first.

Netanyahu has attacked Hefetz as a rogue agent who often tried to please Netanyahu at all costs, even violating the law, without being told to do so by the prime minister.

But Netanyahu’s biggest problem is the one-two combination of Hefetz and Filber.

Most importantly, though Hefetz’s character makes him more attackable, there is absolutely no reason that Filber would have tried to help Bezeq other than under Netanyahu’s orders – Filber received nothing out of it.

Meanwhile, Channel 13 reported on Tuesday night that a key witness in Case 3000 – known as the Submarine Affair – provided the police with incriminating information undermining Netanyahu’s narrative on why he did not tell the defense establishment about green-lighting Germany’s sale of nuclear submarines to Egypt.

Netanyahu to date is still not a suspect, but former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon has accused the prime minister of covering up his actions regarding Germany and Egypt, to cover up other illegal actions he undertook in the case.

Netanyahu told police that he did not tell Ya’alon for a top-secret reason, but the key witness, Miki Ganor, who himself is a highly controversial figure, said he could prove the prime minister had no secret reason.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz reacted to the reports about Cases 4000 and 3000 by saying that it was “yet another night of revelations of frightening corruption at the expense of the citizens, and apparently also the security of the country.”

Gantz called on Mandelblit to investigate Netanyahu’s role in Case 3000, while former prime minister Ehud Barak (Democratic Union) called for a state commission of inquiry into the submarine deal.

Barak said Netanyahu’s favors to Elovitch cost taxpayers 1.8 billion shekels that should have gone to education and healthcare.

“Netanyahu is apparently the most corrupt person in the history of the State of Israel,” Barak said. “Just like he took taxpayer money and gave it to his confidants, he would sell out anything for immunity,” Barak said.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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