Netanyahu’s ex-top aide agrees to testify

David Wainer
Bloomberg News

Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal woes deepened after one of his closest confidants agreed to testify against him in a growing corruption scandal, complicating the Israeli leader’s efforts to hold on to his job.

Shlomo Filber, the suspended Communications Ministry director and onetime chief of Netanyahu’s bureau, signed an agreement to become state witness. He turned on his former boss less than a week after police recommended pressing charges against Netanyahu in two other influence-peddling cases – and a day after news broke that police were investigating whether another longtime Netanyahu associate sought to bribe a judge.

Filber’s state-witness agreement could represent a major break in the investigation. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went to jail for bribery in 2016 after his longtime secretary turned against him.

“Filber is a close confidant of the prime minister who can fully connect all the dots of all the people,” said Keevoon Global Research headMitchell Barak, who served as an aide to Netanyahu more than 20 years ago.

While Netanyahu’s allies have rallied to his defense, and no indictments have been served, the scandal has called into question his ability to function as Israel’s leader at a time when security threats are growing on Israel’s northern and southern borders.

Filber told police he was just carrying out Netanyahu’s orders when he took steps to help Israel’s largest telecommunications company, whose chairman was Netanyahu’s friend, Hadashot News reported Wednesday night, citing what it said were transcripts of Filber’s testimony.

The station later broadcast a short statement from Netanyahu denying Filber’s reported claims. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing, framing the corruption allegations as part of a wider effort by left-wing opponents and journalists to bring down his government.

Criminal charges against Filber in a related case will be dropped in exchange for his testimony, Hadashot said. The Israel Police spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Half of the respondents in a Hadashot News poll broadcast Wednesday night said Netanyahu should resign or suspend himself until his legal issues are resolved, while 33 percent said he should stay in office.

“The Netanyahu era is over,” said Avi Gabbay,head of the opposition Labor Party.

Filber already had been investigated on suspicion of crafting rules to benefit Bezeq Israeli Telecommunication Corp., controlled by Netanyahu’s friend Shaul Elovitch. In a new twist to the case, Filber and another Netanyahu aide were detained earlier this week as investigators probe whether the ministry helped Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, on the company’s Walla! news outlet.

Netanyahu, who stepped down as communications minister because of his friendship with Elovitch, insisted Tuesday he had done nothing to help the company.

“All decisions concerning Bezeq are made by professional committees, by professionals, under close legal supervision,” he said in a Facebook post. “There are no private decisions here. All decisions are transparent and controlled.”

Allegations of corruption have dogged Netanyahu for the past two decades, but he has never been charged with a crime. The defection of an aide as close as Filber turns up the heat.