Mar 23, 2022 - World

Netanyahu attends testimony of key witness in corruption trial

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands at the courtroom on March 23. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/AFP via Getty Images
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands at the courtroom on March 23. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/AFP via Getty Images

A key state witness in Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial testified this morning that the former prime minister had instructed him to take regulatory action that would benefit telecommunications tycoon Shaul Elovitch.

Why it matters: The testimony concerned "Case 4000," in which Netanyahu stands accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust for allegedly providing Israel's biggest telecom company with regulatory benefits worth hundreds of millions of dollars in exchange for favorable coverage from one of Israel's major news websites, which Elovitch also owned.

Driving the news: The witness, Shlomo Filber, was one of Netanyahu’s closest confidants and served during the period in question as director-general of the Communications Ministry. Unlike during previous sessions in his trial, Netanyahu personally attended and stared at Filber while he was testifying.

  • The prosecutors had been concerned that Filber, who to this day is an avid Netanyahu supporter, would backtrack in court from the statement he gave to police investigators, according to reports in Israeli media.
  • During his testimony, Filber claimed that he had told the truth during his interrogation, but that the tone of his statements had been influenced by the way the police had presented the accusations against him.
  • Filber said the facts remained the same, but that he would express them in a different context and at "a different volume."

What he's saying: In his first meeting after being appointed as director-general, Filber recounted, Netanyahu — who was serving as both prime minister and communications minister — raised Elovitch and his company, Bezeq.

  • "I was about to leave and then Netanyahu told me: 'Elovitch reached out to me and said that the prices were wrong. Look into it. Don’t stop the competition and see if you can moderate the prices,'" Filber said in court, miming a hand gesture he said Netanyahu had made.
  • Filber said he understood in real time that Netanyahu was asking him to act in Elovitch’s favor and to solve his problems.

What’s next: In the coming days, Netanyahu’s lawyers will have their chance to grill Filber. It's unclear whether they are preparing any surprises to refute his testimony or attempt to trip him up.

  • Filber’s testimony is likely to be one key factor in determining whether and how plea negotiations between Netanyahu and the attorney general will resume.
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