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Netanyahu trial: Avi Berger says Ex-PM fired him after Bezeq chief threat

CM 26/10/2021

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Former communications ministry director-general Avi Berger on Tuesday told the Jerusalem District Court in the public corruption trial of Benjamin Netanyahu that the former prime minister fired him within weeks of a threat against him for pursuing reforms against Bezeq.
Berger testified that he had multiple meetings with Shaul Elovitch in the weeks before Netanyahu fired him on May 17, 2015, in which the Bezeq owner threatened him for not dropping policy reforms that Elovitch feared would harm the telecommunications giant.
His testimony is a major turning point in the trial for two reasons.
First, the prosecution has now moved from presenting its Case 4000 narrative about how Netanyahu allegedly interfered with Walla’s news coverage to how the former prime minister allegedly influenced government policy in favor of Bezeq.
The basis of Case 4000 is that Netanyahu and Elovitch reached a deal of news coverage control in exchange for government policy support, with Elovitch owning both Walla and Bezeq.
Second, Berger’s firing is allegedly one of the most blatant moves which Netanyahu took to illegally influence government policy in Bezeq’s favor.
At one meeting, Berger said that Elovitch pulled him aside to tell him a “personal story” about a former top government official who was fired and then had trouble finding work.
The former ministry director-general said he understood that this was a not so veiled a threat by Elovitch to get him fired for trying to promote telecommunications industry reforms.
So shaken was he by the threat, that he spoke with the ministry’s legal adviser, the Justice Ministry director-general and its director of High Court issues to consult on how he should proceed.
Ultimately, Berger ignored Elovitch’s alleged veiled threat, but Netanyahu fired him shortly after.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu corruption trial (credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/POOL)Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu corruption trial (credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/POOL)

One policy issue regarding which Netanyahu was angry at Berger was his refusal to approve the Bezeq-Yes merger, which is at the heart of Case 4000.
Berger and most of the ministry viewed the merger as problematic from an apolitical policy point of view.
A second significant shift was Berger’s support for moderating price changes and competition against Bezeq.
Berger testified on Tuesday that when he entered office in November 2013, he was merely maintaining the clear position of the ministry which had already been set by experts for years.
For example, Berger noted that Moshe Kahlon and Gilad Erdan, who were communications ministers from Netanyahu’s Likud Party before, during and after Berger, both strongly supported reforms to bring more competitors into the field against Bezeq.
He said that in the short-term, bringing in other competitors would lower prices and generally improve service – and that in the long-run, the current revolution of faster Internet across the country was made possible.
The state prosecution has said that Netanyahu’s interventions by firing Berger and slowing the reforms delayed faster Internet service to the country for years.
Former Netanyahu campaign manager Shlomo Filber took over the Communications Ministry In place of Berger and pushed through the prime minister’s desired policies.
Filber denied wrongdoing for years, but eventually turned state’s witness against Netanyahu in early 2018, which many say was the tipping point that led Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to conclude that he was obligated to indict the prime minister.
Berger will likely be testifying for a series of days or weeks, after which former Competition Authority official Dror Shtraum and former deputy director-general for finance of EUROCOM Felix Cohen are expected to testify relating to communications policy issues.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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