Netanyahu’s Confidant Turns Against Him
Shlomo Filber, a confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been arrested in a corruption investigation and reached a deal with police on Tuesday to turn over evidence against Netanyahu in exchange for a lighter sentence. Under the deal, Filber, who formerly served as director general of the Communications Ministry under Netanyahu, will not serve jail time.
On Feb. 13, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two corruption investigations. Five days later, police brought in eight suspects for questioning in another corruption probe. One was Filber; another was Shaul Elovitch, a friend of Netanyahu’s and chairman of Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecom company.
The Economist provides additional background:
The police suspect that Mr Netanyahu, who [in addition to being prime minister] served as communications minister from 2014 to 2017, made regulatory decisions that favoured Bezeq and enriched Mr Elovitch in return for glowing news coverage by his popular website, Walla!. On February 21st Mr Filber agreed to serve as a witness for the state. He is expected to testify that his interventions on behalf of Bezeq, while serving as director-general of the communications ministry from 2015 to 2017, were made on orders from Mr Netanyahu.
Police are also investigating claims that one of Mr Netanyahu’s spin-doctors had offered a retired judge the post of attorney-general on the understanding that she would then shut down an investigation into the alleged misuse of public funds by Mr Netanyahu’s wife. Other corruption investigations, including one looking into the awarding of contracts for new submarines and warships, are still swirling around the prime minister.
Filber is suspected of obtaining financial benefits for Elovitch on behalf of the prime minister. Police suspect that Elovitch then skewed coverage on one of the news sites he owns to reflect more favorably on Netanyahu and his wife.
Filber’s testimony is likely to establish the nature of the compensation given by the prime minister for the slanted coverage he received on Walla.
In May 2015, two days after the swearing in of the government, Netanyahu ousted Communications Ministry Director General Avi Berger, and appointed Filber, who had been his confidant for years, to replace him.
Already on his first day in office, Filber met with Elovitch and changed the ministry’s viewpoint in favor of the business mogul. Eventually, when the State Comptroller investigated the affair, he feared that Filber had found himself in a situation of “regulatory captivity,” a kind of secret agent of Bezeq in the Communications Ministry.
The Securities Authority, which later investigated Filber, recommended to prosecute him. Now, Filber may testify that he was not operating on his own behalf, but as Netanyahu’s emissary.
In August, Filder said he would not testify against Netanyahu. When asked whether Netanyahu instructed him to act in favor of Bezeq, Filber said he “never talked to him about these things. This subject never came up in our conversations.”
Netanyahu continues to deny corruption allegations and previously said in response to the reports: “What has happened over the last two days is simply that the world has gone mad. It’s a scandal. They’ve brought two delusional, false allegations as part of a campaign of persecution against me and my family that has been going on for years already.”
Another article at Haaretz details the basis of the suspicions that Netanyahu meddled in Israeli media outlets, among them television, internet, radio and printed press, and pushed through a bill that retroactively legalized the split of a Elovitch-owned television station.