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Ex-PM trial: Hefetz describes secret Netanyahu, Elovitch media bribery scheme meeting

CM 22/11/2021

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Nir Hefetz, the state prosecution star witness and former top aide to Benjamin Netanyahu, on Monday told the Jerusalem District Court about an alleged critical meeting between the former prime minister and Bezeq-Walla owner Shaul Elovitch in solidifying the media bribery scheme at the heart of Case 4000.
This meeting may have been one of the turning points in the nation’s history in driving Netanyahu toward a point where he would be later indicted, which would also eventually help lead to a political alliance which drove him from office.
Hefetz testified that Elovitch had brought him a document explaining what he demanded Netanyahu do to assist Bezeq regarding telecommunications policy in Netanyahu’s capacity also holding the Communications Ministry portfolio.

Next, the top Netanyahu aide said he was initially uninterested in helping Elovitch have a meeting about the issues with the prime minister due to how busy he was with elections and political matters.
However eventually Elovitch convinced Hefetz to bring the document to Netanyahu.
Hefetz said he was shocked at how carefully Netanyahu read the document and how much time he spent on it.
Immediately after meticulously reading the entire document, Netanyahu picked up his telephone and ordered scheduling a meeting in the near future with Elovitch.
Moreover, Hefetz described sneaking Elovitch into a back door of the prime minister’s office on November 28, 2014 so that no one would detect his presence.
In addition, he said that he darkened the blinds to further lower any chances of anyone detecting the Netanyahu-Elovitch meeting.
Hefetz said he was not present for the meeting between the two, but after the meeting he and other messengers of Netanyahu allegedly received new and more precise instructions for handling both the media coverage and regulatory sides of the media bribery scheme.
Earlier on Monday, Hefetz testified that Netanyahu demanded updates on media coverage about him, even during meetings on national security.
Netanyahu himself is in attendance for the second time in a week after skipping out on the trial since April.
Last week, Hefetz was supposed to start testifying, but the court postponed his testimony by one week.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court on November 22, 2021 (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court on November 22, 2021 (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)

The decision came after a last-minute twist on November 15 when the defense asked the court to postpone Hefetz’s testimony after the prosecution disclosed it had collected surprising new testimony from Case 1000 witness Hadas Klein, some of which was leaked to the media before it was given to the defense legal team.
Last week, the judges also harshly rebuked law enforcement for new leaks of anti-Netanyahu evidence to the media, and pushed harder for Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to criminally probe the issue, calling the leaks “very grave.”
Even Deputy State Attorney Liat Ben Ari said she was “disgusted” by the leaks and agreed they were “very grave,” and vowed that no leaks had come from her prosecution team.
Last week, Netanyahu defense lawyer Amit Hadad sent a letter to Mandelblit demanding a criminal probe.
However, in November 2020, the High Court of Justice upheld Mandelblit’s decision not to probe earlier leaks of materials to the media regarding Netanyahu.
The 3-0 decision including High Court President Esther Hayut as well as Justices Noam Sohlberg and George Kara was actually a surprise after Hayut gave Mandelblit’s office a bruising rebuke at a mid-September 2020 hearing, but ultimately the court did not think it could force a probe.
The prosecution said that Klein approached them on October 13 with new evidence against Netanyahu, which multiple media reports said related to jewelry worth tens of thousands of shekels which Sara Netanyahu requested from Klein’s boss, billionaire Arnon Milchin and billionaire James Packer.
Last week, multiple media outlets reported that Klein was told by Sara that the former prime minister did not think a specific bracelet was nice enough, calling it “a Romanian bracelet.”
The broader significance of this evidence could be to show that the prime minister knew of all of the allegedly illegal gifts which Sara was being given, yet the prosecution may not end up using any of this evidence to avoid further delays of the trial.
Netanyahu’s spokesman rejected the new allegations as inaccurate and also noted a motion his lawyers filed to the court against the prosecution and law enforcement for alleged improper leaks to the media.
Because Klein’s testimony relates to the Illegal Gifts Affair and not to Case 4000, the court could have proceeded with Hefetz as planned.
However, under heavy pressure from the defense to give them a postponement to have time to see the new evidence and to be ready for any connection between that evidence and Hefetz’s testimony, the judges chose the path of least resistance and granted the approximately one-week delay.
Last week, the judges’ questions indicated they wanted to continue with Hefetz’s testimony and would just instruct the prosecution not to ask any questions about Case 1000.
But once the defense lawyers accused the prosecution of virtual “violence” in legal terms of the fairness of the process, the judges appeared shaken and ended up agreeing to the delay.
The prosecution also did not oppose the postponement, although notably, they said that Hefetz could have been questioned without getting into Case 1000 issues.
Following the hearing, some reporters were harassed by Netanyahu supporters as they left the courthouse, including Channel 13’s Baruch Kra who was lightly hit with a stick on his head, causing no injury, but leading his yarmulke to fall on the ground.
Some call Hefetz the most critical witness in the whole trial because he is one of only two witnesses who can point the finger directly at Netanyahu on media bribery charges for the all-important Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair.
However, the other witness, another former top Netanyahu aide, Shlomo Filber, will mostly provide narrative only on the Communications Ministry side of the affair, whereas Hefetz is able to connect the dots on both the Communications Ministry side and the Walla media side.
Put simply, Hefetz is expected to testify that Netanyahu gave him orders dozens of times over multiple years in 2013-2016 to order former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua to direct coverage as the former prime minister wanted. Further, he will say that Netanyahu gave him orders to ensure that Communications Ministry policy benefitted Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch.
According to the amended indictment, from January 17 to 19, 2013 – days before the January 22, 2013 election – Netanyahu, through middleman Zeev Rubinstein, made no fewer than six demands for Elovitch to influence media coverage positively for him and negatively relating to Naftali Bennett and the Bayit Yehudi Party.
By March 2014, Hefetz, Sara Netanyahu and the prime minister himself got much more personally involved in passing on messages.
While there have been many important witnesses to date, especially Yeshua and former communications ministry director-general Avi Berger, Hefetz was closer to the prime minister than any of them.
Hefetz served for years as not only Netanyahu’s spokesman, but often his intermediary for complex tasks and cleanups in gray areas, including dealing with sensitive issues relating to Sara Netanyahu.
Until February 2018, Hefetz maintained his and Netanyahu’s innocence.
However, once he was arrested, held in detention and pressured on a variety of fronts, including regarding an alleged romantic connection to a third-party woman who was not his wife (whose identity is under gag order), he agreed to a plea deal to testify against Netanyahu in exchange for immunity.
Netanyahu has attacked Hefetz as a turncoat who cannot be trusted and was simply parroting what the prosecution asked of him to save his own skin.
There have been heated debates between the prosecution and the defense over how Hefetz was interrogated and whether the defense can pierce a gag order on the pressure the police may have put on him regarding the alleged romantic connection.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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