The prosecution in Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial on Wednesday played an audio recording of a conversation in which Stella Handler, the former CEO of Bezeq telecommunications company, appears to pressure then-Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua to provide more favorable coverage for the prime minister on the news website.
Wednesday was the third day of the evidentiary stage of the trial at Jerusalem District Court. The prosecution is currently focusing on Case 4000, the first and most serious of three cases against Netanyahu.
The prime minister is accused of conspiring with Shaul Elovitch, who at the time owned both Bezeq and Walla, to provide Netanyahu with positive news coverage in return for favorable telecoms legislation that would be very profitable for Elovitch. Both Elovitch and his wife Iris are defendants in the case.
The start of the evidentiary phase began on Monday, one year and four months after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust against him. He denies any wrongdoing.
The conversation was played in court Wednesday as the prosecution sought to back up Yeshua's prior testimony that he had been instructed to promote articles casting the prime minister and his family in a positive light while criticizing his opponents.
In the recording, Yeshua is heard saying: "There will be a police investigation against me and Shaul. I spoke with Shaul. Now it is clear we definitely cannot do such things. It is very dangerous. We will be sorry for everything we did, we need to understand the consequences, we are in a dangerous place Stella. The role of journalism is to critique those in power."
The case's lead prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh asked Yeshua how he perceived Handler's comment on the recording that, "this is a mess and you should not go rogue on this."
Yeshua told Tirosh: "I understood that they were worried that we were producing content critical of Bibi [Netanyahu] and that Bezeq would suffer for it."
He added: "There were several instances in the past where I would go to Shaul at the Bezeq headquarters and she [Handler] would talk to him before I went in... She would call me into the room with Shaul and admonish me that Walla that week had published some article or another and they were not good. The context was very clear."
At the beginning of the hearing Tuesday, chief prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari said that Yeshua received threats after testifying the day before that he was regularly told by Elovitch to make coverage about Netanyahu and his family more favorable as to not hurt "Bezeq decisions."
"The unpleasant messages, which he feels he has a problem with, were passed to the police," Ben-Ari told the court.
One of the judges responded by expressing concern that a witness saying he had received unpleasant messages, could impact on his conduct in court.
Both Netanyahu and Elovitch's defense teams have tried to undermine Yeshua's claims, telling judges his testimony in court differs from the one he gave during police interrogation.
"There are dramatic gaps between the testimony he gave to police and the version he gave here," said Boaz Ben Tzur, the head of Netanyahu's legal counsel.
Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh insisted Yeshua's testimony in court is "consistent with his confession to the police."
Yeshua's testimony is set to continue.