Benjamin Netanyahu, 72, appeared again on Monday before the Jerusalem court that has been trying him for corruption for a year and a half, now as head of the opposition and no longer as prime minister of Israel. The Prosecutor’s Office presented its most solid prosecution witness, Nir Hefetz, who for five years served as a press adviser and a man of confidence to the then head of the Government. Like the repentants in the anti-mafia macroprocesses in Italy, the former collaborator sang outright.
In 2014, telecommunications and media mogul Saúl Elovitch gave him a list of his favorite candidates to head the Ministry of Communications, which controls the regulatory framework of his companies, and Hefetz immediately transferred it to the prime minister. “His number one choice for the job was Netanyahu,” he testified in court.
After the March 2015 elections, which revalidated his political hegemony, Netanyahu kept the Communications portfolio together with that of Prime Minister until 2017. During that period, the telecommunications company Bezeq, in which Elovitch was the main shareholder, acquired the pay TV platform Yes for 230 million euros without having to submit to antitrust regulations.
The business merger also brought significant tax benefits for Bezeq. “Elovitch asked me to pass the message [sobre la fusión]. When i gave it to him [a Netanyahu], read it, picked up the phone and asked his secretary to make an appointment [con el magnate]”, The prosecution witness summarized his mediation, before Netanyahu left the room after requesting permission from the magistrates. “He was 100 percent aware of my communication with the owner of Bezeq,” Hefetz declared, “he’s a control freak, and in media matters he wanted to know everything in detail; He always asked: ‘Put me in the owner’.
The journalist Hefetz was a spokesman for Netanyahu upon his return to power in 2009 and from 2014 acted as a media adviser to the Netanyahu family. He was in charge of getting the digital Walla, owned by Elovitch, requests for favorable information coverage for the president and his wife, Sara, in exchange for the economic favors.
In 2018, he handed over to the Prosecutor’s Office the text messages he had received on his mobile as an intermediary between the governor and the tycoon, in exchange for getting rid of the bribery accusations that weighed against him. His testimony has made clear the former conservative president’s obsession with control over the press. “Netanyahu spent as much time on media matters as he did on security, even on issues that might seem silly,” Hefetz added.
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The appearance of Netanyahu during the testimony of the key witness of the so-called Case 4,000 or Bezeq reactivates a process in which he is accused in three cases of corruption for bribery, fraud and abuse of power, charges that can lead to a sentence of 10 years in prison and of those who have pleaded not guilty. In June he was removed from power after 12 years of consecutive terms by a broad coalition that brings together almost the entire opposition.
The desire for control of the media from power and a hedonistic fondness for free luxury, is clear from the three cases that are being tried. In the first of these, the so-called Case 1,000, Israeli billionaire and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, together with other moguls, established a “supply line” of luxurious gifts – Cohiba cigars, French pink champagne or jewelry – valued in the hundreds of thousands. euros for Netanyahu and his relatives. In the second, or Case 2.000, he tried to influence the editorial line of the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the one with the highest paid circulation in Israel, in exchange for restricting the advertising competition that made it a free newspaper with the greatest circulation.
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