Prosecution tries to corner Filber into helping convict Netanyahu

Shlomo Filber Ex-top aide to the ex-PM Netanyahu tries to help both sides.

 Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on March 23, 2022. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on March 23, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The public corruption trial of Benjamin Netanyahu continued on Monday with the second day of testimony by former top aide turned state’s witness Shlomo Filber testifying against the former prime minister.

Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh focused on trying to corner Filber into sticking to his crucial accusations against Netanyahu, while moving him away from other testimony he has given that clouded the case.

Last week, Filber said Netanyahu gave him the order to do what Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch wanted on several issues.

Filber specifically flagged for the Jerusalem District Court that the Bezeq-YES merger, issues of pricing reforms and other telecommunications-related reforms to increase competition were matters that Netanyahu mentioned to him in the key meeting that brought the case forward.

However, as Filber continued his six hours on the stand, he made several statements diluting some of his accusations against Netanyahu that the defense may later try to use to obtain an acquittal.

Shlomo Filber, former director general of the Communications Ministry court hearing in the trial against former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem on March 23, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)Shlomo Filber, former director general of the Communications Ministry court hearing in the trial against former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem on March 23, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

On Monday, Tirosh reminded Filber of a confrontation staged by police in 2018 that he had with Bezeq official Eli Kamir over the media bribery scheme.

Tirosh read to Filber when he said that the sole reason he met with Kamir was because Netanyahu had ordered him to help Elovitch and that the two men were merely messengers of the two big powers: Netanyahu and Elovitch.

Further, she read to him that he said he would never have met with Kamir if not for Netanyahu’s special orders.

Filber had told the police and Kamir, “I arrived there after the meeting I had with the prime minister at the start of that week, when I received the appointment and in which he told me, ‘Listen, Shaul Elovitch has lots of problems with the Communications Ministry, handle them.’

“As far as I was concerned, when I came to meet with you, I came as a messenger of the prime minister to meet with the messenger of Elovitch. That was it. It was a covenant of thieves. It was clear to us in that moment that we were messengers of the same... of those two people together,” said Filber

Filber continued, “You spoke to me about many issues... but the central issue was that we needed to complete the merger [of Bezeq-YES] and I passed on to you the message that I had been given a directive. I am familiar with the matter... and I will take care of it. You gave me positive feedback that this was what Shaul expected... this was the framing of all future meetings and the complete context.”

Later, Tirosh read Filber a message he sent Kamir on June 15, 2015, in which Kamir complained that those under Filber were stalling some of what Elovitch wanted from the Communications Ministry.

Filber responded, “I will push for it with all of my power,” and then proceeded to direct various ministry officials to drop major conditions to the Bezeq-YES merger to which Elovitch objected.

In another key moment, Tirosh read to Filber when he admitted that he had bulldozed then-Communications Ministry deputy director-general Haran Levaot’s objections to the Bezeq-YES merger, despite Filber feigning having forgotten in court.

The purpose of Tirosh reading to Filber his prior statements to police as well as emails was to make it harder for him to claim that he had multiple motivations for pushing for the Bezeq-YES merger. It was also to try to prove to the judges that Filber’s story of one motivation – helping Netanyahu help Elovitch – was the truest story.

Essentially, Tirosh wanted the judges to hear that Filber’s real narrative is that he only pushed for the Bezeq-YES merger to advance the media bribery scheme, and not additional motivations he mentioned for the first time last week, surprising the prosecution and clouding its case.

The defense had hoped to equate Filber’s testimony with Netanyahu’s line of defense; that the Bezeq-YES merger was not breaking regulatory policy, but appropriate policy, and not a basis for media bribery charges.

After some battles with the defense, the prosecution took the unusual measure of submitting all of Filber’s police statements to the court as evidence.

The prosecution even told the court that it may choose, on some issues, to try to convince the court to believe some of Filber’s narrative he told to the police in 2018 even more than what he said in court. This is despite the general rule that testimony in court is considered the most credible.

Both last week and on Monday, Netanyahu himself attended the trial for the first time since mid-November.

For the most part, Netanyahu did not show emotion, remaining cross-legged, but occasionally having his so Avner, pass notes to his lawyers, and smirking when Filber slammed the police.

By midday Monday, Netanyahu left the trial. It is unclear when he will return.

Last week, 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 while standing as they finished the meeting.

According to the prosecution, the mix of these three orders, the largest of which was the Bezeq-YES merge, and some related issues, benefited Elovitch to the tune of NIS 1.8 billion.

Also, Filber confirmed that he had already been told about taking action on these issues by then-Communications Ministry chief of staff and Netanyahu-appointee Eitan Tzafrir, on behalf of the former prime minister.

Further, Filber said that he had around four meetings with Tzafrir that 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 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.

However, Filber also diluted some of the aspects of his testimony.

More importantly, Filber added reasons for his motivations for advancing Bezeq policies.

Filber essentially said that besides helping Netanyahu help Elovitch, he also helped Bezeq for his own personal success and because aspects of helping Bezeq made sense on a policy level.

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.