The corruption trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to hit another major high point with a top witness likely to testify on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Shlomo Filber, a Netanyahu campaign chief and later his Communications Ministry director-general, is one of the prosecution’s two main witnesses for Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair, along with former top Netanyahu aide turned state’s witness Nir Hefetz, who has already testified.
If Hefetz provided the prosecution’s narrative for allegations against Netanyahu on the Walla side of the case, Filber is expected to close the circle by providing the prosecution narrative against the former prime minister on the Bezeq side.
Filber’s testimony could be so damaging that avoiding his testimony was one of the many reasons why Netanyahu was hoping to cut a deal with former attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit before the end of January, when Mandelblit left office.
Now Netanyahu will have to look into the eyes of another former close aide pointing the finger directly at him, while also staring at new attorney-general nominee Gali Baharav-Miara – who lacks the back-history and appreciation of him that he had from Mandelblit – as being a new source of power over his fate if he wants to try to cut a deal in the spring or summer.
Filber is expected to confirm Hefetz’s testimony that on December 9, 2014, Netanyahu appointed Eitan Tzafrir as chief of staff at the Communications Ministry to act as his long arm.
Former Communications Ministry director-general Avi Berger has testified that he repeatedly stuck to his guns on the conditions for a YES-Bezeq merger and ignored Tzafrir, whom he said was advocating problematic policies.
The prosecution has presented evidence that this made Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch furious, a feeling he asked Hefetz to pass on to the prime minister.
Filber is expected to testify that on May 17, 2015, following Hefetz passing on the message, Netanyahu fired Berger as soon as he formed a new government and replaced him with Filber, to carry out Elovitch’s wishes regarding Bezeq.
Filber was a longtime aide and was Netanyahu’s campaign manager from December 2014 to March 2015. He had no background in communications policy.
He was confirmed for his post on June 7, 2015, and he will testify that shortly after that he was called to a special meeting with Netanyahu.
In August 2019, it was reported by Channel 12 that Filber’s testimony about this meeting with Netanyahu will include his belief that carrying out some of Netanyahu’s orders would be “a national disaster” for the good of the public, but that he followed the orders anyway.
FILBER WILL testify that Netanyahu told Filber to sit down on the couch as he smoked a cigar, and 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, and moderating price changes and competition against Bezeq.
“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 Filber’s statement to police.
“I also understand that the Bezeq-Yes merger needs to be completed” to keep Elovitch happy, Netanyahu told Filber.
Filber said that after his meeting with Netanyahu, Tzafrir sent him a message asking: “Is there going to be an approval soon [for the merger]? You’ll approve it? Find a way to approve it.”
Over June 13 and 14, 2015, Filber will testify, he met with Bezeq official Eli Kamir and then Elovitch to nail down the details about how to get the merger approved at a blitzkrieg pace by June 23, 2015. That date was crucial for Elovitch, as without the merger approval he would have had major financing issues with various banks.
This all stemmed from the merger being approved by the relevant company boards involved on March 24, 2015, including their giving Elovitch 90 days to receive Communications Ministry approval without the major conditions Berger had wanted.
Netanyahu has said that the actions Filber undertook were done of his own accord, and that he was blaming the prime minister to save himself from 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’s representatives have said.
Netanyahu’s lawyers will be able to attack Filber for years of public tweets and other statements he made defending all of his decisions that helped Elovitch.
For half a year beginning July 2017, Filber had denied wrongdoing and remained loyal to the prime minister.
Filber told police right after turning state’s witness that it was as if a cloud had been lifted from him, and that he could finally think straight and be true to his conscience for the first time in years.
Filber said he executed Netanyahu’s policy changes in favor of Elovitch that he knew were a “national disaster,” but that he went along because he was caught up in the glory of his new title and power.
Along with other communications officials, Filber will testify that any reform that happened was in spite of Netanyahu and not because of him.
His turning state’s witness also led to Hefetz turning against Netanyahu.