Inside Israel

Ex-Netanyahu aide said set to testify to family’s involvement in media matters

When he takes the stand next Tuesday, a key witness in the criminal trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will testify to the deep involvement the ex-premier’s wife and son had in the country’s media landscape while he was in office, according to a report Friday.

Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu aide and confidant turned state’s witness, will provide testimony in Case 4000 — one of three against the former premier. In it, Netanyahu is charged with illicitly and lucratively benefiting the business interests of Bezeq’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, in exchange for positive coverage on the Elovitch-owned Walla news website. He is accused of abusing his powers when he served as both prime minister and communications minister from 2014 to 2017.

Hefetz sat down with state prosecutors to prepare for his testimony and some details from the recent meeting were leaked to Channel 13.

The former Netanyahu aide will testify that the former premier’s wife Sara was involved in the hiring of spokespeople in the Prime Minister’s Office, according to the transcripts.

Hefetz will also highlight the family’s “obsession” with the media, particularly the Walla news site at the center of Case 4000. Spokespeople were made aware that part of their job was to “correct the historical injustice done to Sara Netanyahu as a result of her husband’s public role,” Hefetz told prosecutors.

The prime minister’s wife has often been depicted unflatteringly in the media for alleged abusive conduct toward staff.

Hefetz will testify that Netanyahu was aware that some of his aides, namely Jonathan Urich and Topaz Luk, were tasked with matters relating to defending Sara in the public sphere.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) celebrating his 64th birthday with his wife Sara and their son Yair, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. October 20, 2013. (GPO/Flash90)

He also says Netanyahu and his wife were heavily involved, and even initiated, some of the hit-pieces against the former caretaker of the Prime Minister’s Residence, Meni Naftali, after the latter accused the couple of excessive spending and misuse of public funds.

The former aide will also reveal the extent of the Netanyahu family’s involvement in salvaging the hard-right Channel 20 news outlet, which faced collapse in the previous decade.

Hefetz says Netanyahu’s son Yair sought to involve himself in the hiring of reporters at the network, sending a list of names that the channel should pick from. When the candidates were not chosen, Yair sat down with the network’s executives to voice his frustration, Hefetz says.

He also will testify that Yair and Sara Netanyahu were involved in the hiring of Eran Tiefenbrunn as an editor at Walla. Sara Netanyahu conditioned her consent to Tiefenbrunn’s hiring on the latter’s agreement to write columns against Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes — who is facing charges in a second case against Netanyahu — “so that he would be savaged,” Hefetz told prosecutors.

With regards to allegations of wrongdoing by his interrogators during his imprisonment and questioning, Hefetz told prosecutors that he planned to sue the state.

Hefetz turned state’s witness after being arrested and questioned over a two-week period and is believed to have provided prosecutors with key information as an interlocutor between Netanyahu and Bezeq’s Shaul Elovitch.

Channel 12 revealed that Hefetz may have been pressured through illegitimate means to cause him to turn against Netanyahu. It said another person with no ties to Case 4000 was brought in by police and questioned in order to pressure Hefetz to sign an agreement with authorities, and that Hefetz indeed did so following this move by police.

Nonetheless, Channel 13 reported Thursday that Hefetz told the prosecution that the interrogation tactics did not influence his decision to sign an agreement to become a state’s witness.

When Hefetz takes the stand on Tuesday, Netanyahu will be required to be present in the courtroom.

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