The public corruption trial of Benjamin Netanyahu hit another high point on Wednesday, with former top aide turned state’s witness Shlomo Filber testifying that the former prime minister – in attendance for the first time since November– gave him the order to do what Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch wanted on several issues.
Filber specifically told the Jerusalem District Court that the Bezeq-YES merger, issues of pricing reforms, and other telecommunications-related reforms to increase competition were matters Netanyahu mentioned to him in the key meeting that brought the case forward.
As Filber continued his six hours on the stand, he made several statements diluting some of his accusations against Netanyahu, which the defense may later try to use to obtain an acquittal.
Netanyahu mostly did not show emotion, remaining cross-legged, but occasionally having his son Avner pass notes to his lawyers, and smirking when Filber slammed the police.
The former top Netanyahu aide testified about the key meeting at the heart of the media bribery allegations in Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair, saying the then prime minister gave him three orders regarding satisfying Elovitch.
According to the prosecution, the mix of these three orders, the largest of which was the Bezeq-YES merger, and some related issues benefited Elovitch to the tune of NIS 1.8 billion.
Filber confirmed that he had already been told about taking action on these issues by communications ministry chief of staff and Netanyahu-appointee Eitan Tzafrir, on behalf of the former prime minister.
Filber said that he had around four meetings with Tzafrir, which lasted from two to four hours covering all policy issues at the ministry, including Netanyahu’s expectations.
In addition, Filber said that he had unusual meetings not only with Elovitch to get directives, but with Bezeq official Eli Kamir on June 13 and 14, 2015.
In particular, he emphasized that he rushed to meet Kamir at his private residence on a Saturday night in order to ingratiate himself with Bezeq, and to better carry out Netanyahu’s will.
This would be crucial to nail down the details about how to get the merger approved at a blitzkrieg pace by June 23.
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 including their giving Elovitch 90 days to get Communications Ministry approval without the major conditions Filber’s predecessor and thorn in the side of Bezeq, Avi Berger, had wanted.
However, Filber also diluted some of the aspects of his testimony.
When he said that his key Netanyahu meeting occurred while standing, this departed from his testimony to police that they were sitting on the office couch as Netanyahu smoked a cigar.
Filber also showed some uncertainty as to whether the meeting took place on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday of the same week and was sure that top Netanyahu aide David Sharan was present at the stage of the meeting when they were sitting around desks, but was unsure how long he remained in the room.
More importantly, Filber added reasons for his motivations for advancing Bezeq policies.
He carefully avoided contradicting his earlier testimony to police that one motivation for helping Bezeq was to please Netanyahu, which would violate his plea deal and could land him in jail, but he added two new motives.
Filber essentially said that he also helped Bezeq for his own personal success and because aspects of helping Bezeq made sense on a policy level.
In addition, Filber accused the police of confronting him like aggressive rottweilers who wanted to have him incriminate Netanyahu at any cost.
Next, Filber said that when Netanyahu gave him the orders to please Bezeq, the emphasis was on the policies, not pleasing Elovitch.
When Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh suggested such an answer might violate his plea deal, Filber backed off and affirmed the earlier response to the police, pleasing Elovitch, regardless of the specific policy.
Tirosh also pressed Filber on any other changes to his police testimony, repeatedly confronting him with prior testimony.
The defense objected to attempts by the prosecution to clean up the differences in Filber’s narratives.
In a rare move, Filber had to leave the courtroom four times in 15 minutes as the lawyers fought over what he meant by his testimony.
Tirosh also explicitly asked Filber if he understood that he was supposed to meet with Elovitch to find out what the Bezeq owner wanted the ministry to do for him.
Filber responded “yes,” adding “I understood I needed to handle this – and to handle this, I needed to speak to him.”
Following these answers, Netanyahu lawyer Boaz Ben Tzur told the court that in cross-examination they would show all the changes and inconsistencies in Filber’s story.
Directly addressing the inconsistencies, Filber said that at later points of being questioned by the police, “I was in a different universe” once he was suspected and arrested for media bribery, and that he did his best to remember things, but sometimes had different perspectives based on new circumstances.
In a shaking voice, Filber said that “there was a big connection between these two big men [Netanyahu and Elovitch], and the two of them are toying with me.”
“When I signed the plea deal, I decided I would tell the full truth,” he said with rising emotion.
“I was in emotional turmoil and the police showed me evidence going in a very extreme direction” which put me in a certain state of mind, but “I was absolutely telling the truth of what I recalled.”
Along with former top Netanyahu aide turned state’s witness Nir Hefetz, who already testified, Filber, a Netanyahu campaign chief and then communications ministry director-general, is one of the prosecution’s two main witnesses for Case 4000.
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 narrative against the former prime minister on the Bezeq side.
In fact, Filber’s testimony could be so damaging that avoiding his testimony was one of many reasons why Netanyahu was hoping to cut a deal with former attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit before the end of January.
Netanyahu’s lawyers will be able to attack Filber for years of public tweets and other statements he made defending all of the decisions he made which helped Elovitch.
For half a year, starting in July 2017, Filber denied wrongdoing and remained loyal to the prime minister.
He 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.
He said he carried out Netanyahu’s policy changes in favor of Elovitch, which he knew were a “national disaster,” but was caught up in the glory and the power.
Filber’s decision to turn state’s witness led Hefetz to do the same.