In another major blow to embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a second close confidant of the Israeli leader has agreed to testify in one of the corruption investigations encircling Netanyahu and his inner circle.
Shlomo Filber, who served as Director-General of the Ministry of Communications under Netanyahu, has turned state's witness, signing an agreement with the prosecutor's office, according to a legal source with knowledge of the agreement. Filber, a veteran of Netanyahu's Likud party, was regarded as the Prime Minister's right-hand man.
The Attorney General's office declined to comment.
In a video posted on social media Tuesday night, Netanyahu said, "What's happening in the last few days is the system going crazy. Scandal. Two false hallucinatory claims are brought up, in the framework of a witch hunt against me and my family that has been going on for years."
The news couldn't come at a worse time for Netanyahu. Just this week, police revealed two new investigations targeting members of his inner circle, including his former family spokesman.
And one week ago, police said they had enough evidence to indict Netanyahu on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust in two separate investigations. Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Filber is a key part of the fourth investigation against Netanyahu, known locally as Case 4000. In it, police say Filber and the Ministry of Communications illegally advanced the interests of Bezeq, an Israeli telecommunications firm. Investigators say the Ministry passed classified material back and forth with senior employees at Bezeq.
The Israeli Security Authority also said senior employees of Yes, an Israeli cable company, and Bezeq, committed fraudulent receipt of funds, intended to benefit Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, to the tune of 170 million shekels (approximately $48 million).
In exchange, Israeli media reported that Netanyahu received favorable coverage for him and his family from Israeli online media site Walla! News, also owned by Elovitch.
In all, seven people were arrested in Case 4000, including Filber. Elovitch, as well as his wife, son, right-hand man, and CEO, were also arrested, on suspicion of bribery, fraud, breach of trust, obstruction of justice, and other offenses. All have denied wrongdoing through their lawyers.
Netanyahu, though not named as a suspect in the case, was Minister of Communications during the period under investigation; Filber was the ministry's Director-General. Filber was suspended from his position in August last year as the Israel Securities Authority began an initial investigation into Bezeq.
Filber's knowledge could become a crucial piece of the evidence if Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decides to pursue an indictment against any of the suspects and could potentially implicate Netanyahu.
Addressing Case 4000 specifically on Tuesday, Netanyahu said: "All of the decisions by Bezeq were made by professional committees, with professional experts, with close legal supervision. There is no Wild West here. There are no private decisions here. All decisions are transparent and controlled. And therefore the claim that I acted in favor of Bezeq at the expense of practical considerations is simply baseless."
In August 2017, another member of Netanyahu's inner circle agreed to testify against his former boss. American-born Ari Harow, who served under the Prime Minister when he was elected in 2009, will cooperate with investigators in two cases in which Netanyahu has been named as a suspect.
As part of the deal, Harow agreed to plead guilty to committing fraud, and to breach of trust, in an entirely separate case. In exchange, prosecutors will request that Harow be handed six months of community service and a fine of 700,000 shekels (around $200,000) instead of a jail term, which such offenses usually attract.
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