Communications Ministry Director-General Filber signs state witness agreement
Suspended Communications Ministry senior official and PM Netanyahu confidant Shlomo Filber signs state witness agreement with law enforcement to testify against his former benefactor; deal said to exclude actual jail time; earlier this week Bezeq owner Elovitch and CEO Handler were arrested on suspected involvement in affair.
Suspended Communications Ministry Director-General Shlomo Filber, who for a time was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-hand man, will serve as a state witness in an investigation delving into the alleged quid pro quo relationship between the premier and his associates and senior Bezeq and Walla! News executives.
Specifically, the case examines the possibility that Netanyahu and his family were afforded flattering coverage in return for promoting the two companies' economic interests, estimated to have run in the hundreds of millions of shekels.
Filber, his attorneys and top police brass—head of the Investigations and Intelligence Division Gadi Siso and Commander of the National Financial Investigations Unit Eli Asayag—convened for several hours at the offices of the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit in order to hammer out the agreement's details.
The director-general provided investigators with the main points of his testimony and divulged details on which he will be able to testify regarding the conduct of the others involved. His decision to turn state's evidence came, as first reported by Guy Peleg on Channel 2 News, after disavowing the eventuality of signing such a deal throughout the Securities Authority investigation.
Filber's testimony also pertains to the attempt to sell Walla! News to one of the prime minister's associates, as well as to alleged instruction he received from the premier to provide regulatory benefits to Bezeq.
Filber, planned to testify against his benefactor Netanyahu, demanded during negotiations that he not be sentenced to any actual jail time—a demand that was likely approved.
A senior coalition source said Wednesday that Filber's signing of a state witness deal marked the beginning to the end. "If he signed, then the jig is up," the source said. "Now there are two options: either Bibi will call elections, or will cut a deal saying he'll step down in return for closing all the cases."
Multitude of witnesses weigh in on affair
The head of Walla! News Michal Klein arrived at the Securities Authority Tuesday to testify about alleged pressure applied by managers and editors of the news site on items concerning the Netanyahu family, supposedly at the behest of Bezeq majority shareholder Shaul Elovitch.
Former Walla! News editor-in-chief Yinon Magal also testified for a second time at the offices of Lahav 433, as did acting director-general of the Communications Ministry Maimon Shmila and Likud spokesman Shai Hayek.
Boaz Stembler, until just recently the prime minister's media adviser and currently the director of the Government Advertising Agency, gave detailed testimony Monday regarding the alleged ties between Walla! News and the Netanyahu family.
He told investigators that he communicated various requests on the behalf of the Netanyahu family. His testimony dovetails with the account provided by Walla! CEO Ilan Yeshua and its former editor Magal, both of whom said they were pressured to portray the Netanyahu couple in a positive light.
Affair probes alleged quid pro quo relationship
The Bezeq affair began as a solo investigation by the Israel Securities Authority, which concluded with the recommendation to indict senior Bezeq executives, including majority owner Shaul Elovitch and CEO Stella Handler, as well as senior officials at its subsidiary, satellite television provider Yes.
Elovitch financially benefited from approved deals in a manner that may constitute fraud, the summation handed over to the State Attorney's Office showed, whereas then-Communications Ministry director-general Filber worked on Bezeq's behalf while withholding information from professional ranks.
Filber is also said to have leaked to the company classified documents for them to provide their comments and engineer to their own needs.
Several months ago, the police asked to receive the investigation materials from the Securities Authority and launch an investigation of their own, but their request was declined by the Securities Authority, which sought to complete its financial investigation first.
However, the police continued investigating prominent figures in the case such as Elovitch, Filber, Handler and Prime Minister Netanyahu's former media adviser Nir Hefetz even before receiving the materials.
Earlier this week, Elovitch, Hefetz and Filber were arrested. Or and Iris Elovitch, the son and wife of Bezeq's owner, and Handler were also detained.
Police investigators have obtained text messages, emails and recordings of some of the people involved, who were arrested Sunday, with their remand extended at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court by four to five days.
Police and the Israel Securities Authority hold a highly significant "golden testimony" by one of the suspects involved, according to source with knowledge of the investigation.
Said testimony was presumed to be the reason the suspects' attorneys did not object to the police's requests to remand their clients.
Questions about Filber's conduct vis-à-vis Bezeq were also raised in the State Comptroller's report this past July. Filber is currently suspended from his position since being questioned under caution at the beginning of the Securities Authority's investigation.
Referring to both the ministry and Filber, who was a Netanyahu appointee, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira found "fundamental flaws in (their) decision making process" as it pertained to benefits provided to Bezeq upon its merger with Yes.
Shapira also determined that the Communications Ministry was slowly and partially implementing the wholesale market reform—intended to open up the internet service provider market to more competition.
Telecommunications companies other than Bezeq and Hot, Shapira found, could not smoothly provider their clients with both internet service and infrastructure, and could not provide landline phone services that did not depend on an internet connection.
Lahav 433 and the Securities Authority's investigations are ongoing. One of the people interrogated at the Authority's Tel Aviv offices was Israel Bachar, Kamir's partner at media consultancy and strategy company "Kamir Bachar."
Bachar, considered close to Filber, was already interrogated on the affair months ago. Despite his close ties to both parties, he is not considered a suspect at this stage and was questioned as a witness.
Bachar is also acquainted with the premier himself, having served as his adviser in anticipation of the 2009 elections, which Netanyahu ended up winning.
Information obtained by investigators, meanwhile, raised suspicions that the main source through which Elovitch and Filber communicated was strategy adviser Eli Kamir, also suspected of acting as go-between on the events investigated in Case 1270—involving media adviser Nir Hefetz and Judge Hila Gerstel.
The new investigation, dubbed Case 1270, was unveiled Wednesday. In it, Hefetz and Kamir are suspected of offering former judge Hila Gerstel a promotion to attorney general in return for closing a criminal case against the prime minister's wife Sara.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut provided police with testimony on the affair Wednesday, after it was made known Gerstel, who is friends with Hayut, told her about it before she was appointed chief justice.
"This is a case of the utmost severity and an attempt to take control of the general prosecution," said officials at the State Attorney’s Office. "The matter must be investigated and to get to the truth."
Roi Bergman contributed to this report.