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Netanyahu trial: Key testimony by former aide postponed to next week

CM 16/11/2021

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The Jerusalem District Court decided on Tuesday to postpone the testimony of Nir Hefetz, a state prosecution star witness and former top aide to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, until Monday of next week.
Netanyahu himself attended the hearing –the first time he has attended since April.
The decision came after a last minute twist Monday afternoon where the defense asked the court to postpone Hefetz’s testimony by one week after the prosecution disclosed it had collected surprising new testimony from Case 1000 witness Hadas Klein.

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.
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.

 Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives for a court hearing on corruption charges, on November 16, 2021 in Jerusalem. (credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES) Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives for a court hearing on corruption charges, on November 16, 2021 in Jerusalem. (credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

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 one week delay.
Earlier at the Tuesday hearing, 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.
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 pressure the police may have put on him regarding the alleged romantic connection.
The stress this issue caused Hefetz was so acute that in November 2019, he yelled at the judges, “you can just kill me!” during a hearing about whether to remove the gag order.
Hefetz stomped around the hallways of the courtroom trying to flee a wave of media attention, his face full of anger and despair.
The prosecution has said that even if there are issues with aspects of Hefetz’s testimony, that there is tremendous supporting evidence and that he is an irreplaceable witness for tying together all the different aspects of the case.
In mid-September 2020, the prosecution had denied it had any documents pertaining to conflict within the Police Investigation Department (PID) about how Hefetz had been treated during his interrogation.
Subsequently, after Channel 12’s Amit Segal revealed one such document, the prosecution did a 180-degree turn and said that good faith mis-communications within the PID had led to the document going astray.
Essentially former senior PID official Dubi Shertzer has claimed that he complained to his superiors in PID about police investigators’ alleged abusive treatment of Hefetz.
Next, Segal claimed that either PID or the prosecution or some combination of them covered up the complaint and failed to disclose the complaint to defense lawyers until Segal broke the story in mid-September.
The prosecution’s later bizarre explanation of why it thought it did not have the document could be trying to cover for the PID or just incompetence or a result of interpersonal rivalries.
Shertzer and then deputy PID head Moshe Saada are known to be on poor terms with PID Chief Karen Ben Menachem.
After all of this, the prosecution has told the court that almost all of the information under gag order had nothing to do with Netanyahu and that parties who wanted the information only sought it to intimidate Hefetz not to testify. 
The Jerusalem Post learned from sources with direct knowledge that the third party was not brought by the police for the primary purpose of pressuring Hefetz to become a state’s witness. Instead, the person was brought to the police station just as Hefetz’s wife was brought there – as part of standard police tactics to learn everything relevant about a suspect.
Police intelligence regarding the third party suggested she might possess relevant electronic evidence about Hefetz and Case 4000.
The Post has also learned that there was a court-signed warrant for searching the person’s residence.
Law enforcement will need to admit at trial, the Post understands, that once the third party was at the police station, they instigated a sort of confrontation between that person and Hefetz.
However, their narrative will be that this was legal to try to get Hefetz to admit the truth even if it was unpleasant for Hefetz.
Furthermore, they will highlight that Hefetz waited another two weeks after the confrontation with the third party before deciding to turn state’s witness.
Finally, law enforcement would point out that Netanyahu’s top aide has said that when he turned state’s witness it was not because of this third party, but essentially to avoid jail time.
Hefetz is expected to testify that a few days before a major November 28, 2014, meeting between Netanyahu and Elovitch, he showed the former prime minister proposals which Elovitch gave Hefetz. Elovitch wanted to gut communications minister director-general Avi Berger’s conditions for approving the YES-Bezeq merger, which Elovitch desperately wanted.
Next, Hefetz will likely testify that Netanyahu requested that he carefully smuggle Elovitch into the meeting with him in a way that would cover up that they had met.
Both Hefetz and former communications ministry director-general turned state’s witness Shlomo Filber will likely testify that on December 9, 2014, Netanyahu appointed Eitan Tzafrir as chief of staff at the Communications Ministry to act as his long arm.
Berger has testified that he repeatedly stuck to his guns on the conditions for a YES-Bezeq merger and ignored Tzafrir, who he said was advocating problematic policies.
Multiple witnesses are expected to testify that this made Elovitch furious, which he asked Hefetz to pass on to the prime minister.
Following Hefetz’s passing that on to Netanyahu, the indictment alleged that on May 17, 2015, as soon as Netanyahu formed a new government, he fired Berger and replaced him with Filber to carry out Elovitch’s wishes regarding Bezeq.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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