Case 4000 in the public corruption trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu started to cross through one of its last key points with the cross-examination of Shlomo Filber on Tuesday.
Filber, who was a Netanyahu campaign chief and later his Communications Ministry director-general, has been 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 previously testified.
If Hefetz provided the prosecution’s narrative for allegations against Netanyahu on the Walla side of the case, Filber closed the circle over the course of three weeks by testifying in favor of the prosecution narrative against the former prime minister on the Bezeq side.
Despite Filber’s help to the prosecution earlier in the case, Filber gave many statements on Tuesday undermining the prosecution’s case.
For example, he testified that all of the major policies with which he tried to help Netanyahu and Bezeq were in fact good policies. The problem was not with the policies themselves, he argued, but he himself had back-channeled with Bezeq regarding the policies and concealed that from the Communications Ministry.
However, other than concealing his back channel, he maintained on Tuesday that the policies themselves were solid.
Regarding the Bezeq-Yes merger, Filber said that even other Communications Ministry officials were willing to approve it, and that those officials simply had certain conditions that Filber said were tactical conditions to negotiate with Bezeq, but were not strategic or critical conditions.
These statements could undermine the prosecution’s case that the Bezeq-Yes merger and other policies were inherently corrupt policies that Filber only pushed forward as part of the Netanyahu media bribery scheme.
In order to make this argument, the defense tried to get Filber to present Deputy Communications Ministry Director-General Haran Levaot as only opposing the Bezeq-Yes merger on tactical negotiating grounds.
However, the prosecution will present Filber’s statements to police along with testimony from other Communications Ministry officials indicating that Levaot strongly opposed the Bezeq-Yes merger as a problematic policy.
In fact, the prosecution will argue that Levaot only withdrew his opposition when it became clear that Filber was going to push through the Bezeq-Yes merger regardless of Levaot’s actions.
Other government officials, including Dana Neufeld, also removed their opposition to Filber-Netanyahu-Bezeq moves for a similar reason of feeling that opposition was futile.
Filber also testified that he met with Bezeq official Eli Kamir before the meeting with Netanyahu, at which time he was given instructions regarding the alleged media bribery scheme.
The defense tried to get Filber to portray this as showing that he would have acted on behalf of Bezeq on a policy basis even before he was given instructions by Netanyahu.
Filber’s earlier testimony for the prosecution was damaging enough in checking key boxes of the prosecution narrative: 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.
Whether the defense’s shaking up some of Filber’s points for the prosecution is viewed as significant by the court could determine if such a deal goes through this summer, and if so, whether Netanyahu has a chance at a deal that would let him continue in politics.
Filber testified at the Jerusalem District Court that the former prime minister gave him the order to do what Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch wanted on several issues.
Filber specifically flagged 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.
At the same time, even when testifying for the prosecution, Filber made several statements diluting some of his accusations against Netanyahu.