Amid apparent contradictions, state witness Filber insists his testimony stands

State witness Shlomo Filber on Wednesday insisted that his statements to the court had been correct, as he continued his testimony in Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial, after inaccuracies regarding the timing of his meetings with the former prime minister dealt a blow to prosecution’s case.

Prosecutors suffered a setback Tuesday when the court rejected their request to amend the indictment due to seeming contradictions in Filber’s timeline of events. The key event is a meeting Filber, the former director-general of the Communications Ministry, claims to have had with Netanyahu, during which the then-prime minister allegedly instructed Filber to actively benefit Shaul Elovitch, the then-controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecom company, in exchange for positive coverage from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site.

Filber has provided contradictory details about the meeting in question, testifying earlier this month that he may have misinterpreted a hand gesture by the ex-premier and casting doubt on when the meeting took place.

The State Attorney’s Office had sought to change the indictment in Case 4000 to say that the meeting was held after Netanyahu decided on Filber’s appointment as director-general of the Communications Ministry, rather than after Filber was appointed, as it currently reads.

The court rejected the request.

But Filber said Wednesday that regardless of timing, he remembers the meeting itself clearly.

“Factually speaking, one cannot erase a situation from one’s brain,” Filber told the court.

The prosecution maintains that the allegations regarding the context of the meeting stand, despite other details made opaque due to Filber’s flipflopping testimony.

Case 4000 is considered the most serious of the three cases against the former prime minister. The meeting in question, specifically, is perceived as a major aspect of the prosecution’s case, as it is the first time, according to the indictment, that Netanyahu allegedly ordered Filber to benefit Elovitch and is seen as the beginning of the corrupt relationship between the former prime minister and the media mogul.

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 31, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I listened to [Netanyahu], understood the general idea and took it from there,” Filber said during his cross-examination by the defense on Wednesday, stressing that such a meeting had taken place and had begun his relationship with Elovitch.

Filber accused police interrogators of trying to manipulate him during their investigation into him.

“Had I known everything I know now during my investigation, I would have walked away,” he said. “They tried to connect me to the entire ordeal and didn’t tell me the truth during the investigation, which has an impact.”

In an apparent response to Filber’s remarks, former police chief Roni Alsheich said that police had done everything by the book.

“I think the police did a very good job and, no less importantly, they kept their hands clean,” he said, speaking at a security and strategy conference in Netanya.

“I went over every word of the testimonies provided by the defendants and state witnesses,” he said. “People need to understand that every action… during an investigation must be approved. The police force can’t examine everything; it’s limited by the things it’s allowed to examine.”

Former Israeli chief of Police Roni Alsheikh speaks at a conference in Ramat Gan, January 8, 2019. (Flash90)

In her first public comment on Netanyahu’s case, the relatively new Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said Tuesday the state would not appeal the court’s decision to reject an amended indictment, but noted that existing law — clause 184 of Israel’s criminal code — allows for a defendant to be convicted on the basis of evidence even if it is not laid out in the indictment.

“The prosecution announced in court that it was planning on weighing use of clause 184. This is so the defense can plan its steps,” the statement read, following a meeting between Baharav-Miara and the prosecution team.

Micha Fettman, a lawyer who previously represented Netanyahu, said Tuesday that the court’s decision to reject the altered indictment marked “a happy day” for the defense and a misstep by the prosecution. The state prosecution, he noted, had erred in specifying in the indictment when the meeting at issue took place, rather than being vague as to the timing.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Netanyahu on Tuesday night dismissed Hebrew media speculation that the former prime minister might revive plea bargain negotiations in the case against him, from a now-improved position. “Fake news,” said Netanyahu’s spokesman Ofer Golan. “A plea bargain is not being considered.”

Newly appointed Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara seen during a welcome ceremony for her in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu is also on trial in two other corruption cases, facing charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000. He has claimed all the charges were fabricated in a political coup led by the police and state prosecution.

Baharav-Miara said that the Case 1000 indictment could still be changed by adding three new witnesses.

Case 1000 involves suspicions that Netanyahu illicitly accepted gifts including jewelry, cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Israeli Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage.

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