Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Israel: PM Netanyahu lawyers tries to blame his former aide for bribery charges


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense team plans to argue that Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu media advisor turned state’s witness, had engineered the case to further his own business interests, and not at the behest of Netanyahu.

That will be one of the prime minister’s main lines of defense in Case 4000, in which he is suspected of taking steps that benefited Bezeq chief Shaul Elovitch in return for favorable coverage in Bezeq’s Walla news site.

In a document transferred to the Justice Ministry by Netanyahu’s lawyers, revealed here, they argue that Hefetz wanted to get closer to Elovitch so he could promote his own business initiatives, and that Netanyahu was unaware of these plans.

Attorneys Amit Hadad and Yossi Ashkenazi submitted their summary arguments in three corruption cases against Netanyahu, following the pre-indictment hearing at the Justice Ministry held earlier this month. The attorneys hope to refute the prosecution’s claim that Hefetz was acting on Netanyahu’s behalf for the benefit of Elovitch.

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Case 4000 includes evidence provided by two state’s witnesses suggesting that Netanyahu and Elovitch had a give-and-take relationship, with Netanyahu aware of this quid pro quo. This is based on evidence given by the former director-general of the Communications Ministry, Shlomo Filber, who testified that Netanyahu, who was also communications minister at the time, knew about the regulatory favors given to Bezeq.

Hefetz also provided evidence that Netanyahu was aware of the favorable coverage at the Walla news website, which he allegedly received in exchange for the favors granted to Bezeq. The draft indictment includes abundant evidence that Netanyahu instructed Hefetz to act in this matter, and that Netanyahu himself even made demands of Elovitch.

The prosecution maintains that Hefetz was also involved in advancing regulatory changes favoring Bezeq and in coordinating meetings between Netanyahu and Elovitch. There is mention of Hefetz’s testimony in which he explained why he devoted so much time to Elovitch before the 2015 election. Hefetz headed the Likud public relations headquarters in that election campaign.

The testimony Hefetz gave, as quoted in prosecution documents, indicates that he was thinking of possible future ties with Elovitch, since the latter was a major player in Israel’s economy. He said that after the election, whether Likud won or lost, it would be good to have an open line to Elovitch, and that his overtures to the businessman were not something Netanyahu expected of him.

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Israel: PM Netanyahu lawyers tries to blame his former aide for bribery charges 1

Netanyahu’s attorneys say the investigation showed that Hefetz had his own business interests in mind when holding private conversations with Elovitch. The two even signed a contract, on which Hefetz later reneged for unspecified reasons.

In his interrogation, Hefetz said that he had not been offered work by Elovitch – and that he was the one who asked. This related to a consulting job, but Hefetz pulled out after signing a draft contract, after a journalist from Globes started asking questions about it.

Another project, according to prosecution documents, was an attempt by Hefetz to set up a TV station together with Walla, as revealed by TheMarker. The evidence in Case 4000 includes an email sent by Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua to Shaul Elovitch in March of 2016.

Yeshua updated Elovitch regarding a message he’d received from the Senior VP of content at YES satellite TV, Yona Wiesenthal. It talked about a secret Nir Hefetz project, involving the setting up of a broadcast channel dealing with news and current affairs.

The intention was to apply for a license within a couple of months. Yeshua mentions that the agreement was that he’d be a consultant in the interim months, while looking at how Walla could supply programs for the new channel. No legal obstacles were identified.

Netanyahu’s lawyers argue that the verbatim recordings of Hefetz’s interrogation show that he mediated between Elovitch and Russian businessman David Davidovich, who considered buying Walla in 2016. In March 2018, Hefetz told investigators that his dream had always been to own a media outlet and that he’d been trying to recruit investors. He asked Elovitch on several occasions whether Walla was for sale and for how much. “I did this when I had an investor or an idea of how to get one,” said Hefetz.

“The only time it was really relevant was when I was working with Davidovich, who wanted to set up or buy an Israeli media outlet. I asked Elovitch how much Walla would cost, wanting to offer it to Davidovich. Elovitch never wanted to negotiate, saying it wasn’t on offer. The whole thing was my initiative,” he explained.

Netanyahu’s lawyers note the manner in which Elovitch responded to demands made by Hefetz. They say that Elovitch asked senior Walla officials to reward Hefetz and make sure he was satisfied. They say that this doesn’t fit the assumption that Hefetz was only there to give Netanyahu access to Elovitch.

“All these initiatives don’t add up to a relationship of bribery between Elovitch and the prime minister, but rather prove [the existence of] an independent relationship between Elovitch and Hefetz, as well as the independent economic interests of Hefetz and his desire to maintain and strengthen his ties with Elovitch,” they conclude.


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