Seven years ago, the lawyers for then-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman succeeded in shrinking, in marathon hearing sessions, the list of offenses for which then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein planned to prosecute him to a miniature indictment, on whose charges he was later acquitted. On Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers are scheduled to report to the offices of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, in an attempt to achieve a similar outcome. Over the course of four days they will challenge the main contentions of the draft indictment drawn up by the attorney general.
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They will focus their efforts on the so-called Case 4000, involving allegations that as communications minister, Netanyahu endeavored to aid Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq communications group, granting regulatory favors both directly and through intermediaries with an estimated combined value of hundreds of millions of shekels. Netanyahu’s legal team presumably recognizes that to the attorney general, the pressure that Netanyahu allegedly applied on subordinates, particularly former Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber, to approve the Bezeq-Yes merger and later on to delay a reform in the wholesale communications market were the most damaging to their client of all the investigations against him.
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Lawyers for the prime minister-cum-communications minister are therefore expected to depict their client as a passive character in the story, who at most signed off on transactions that had been approved by all the regulators and that did not contain any special favors for Elovitch. They will portray Filber, a witness for the state who told investigators he advanced Bezeq’s interests on the instructions of Netanyahu, as a liar who sold out his boss only after realizing there was evidence proving that Filber had served as a collaborator and agent of the monopolistic corporation from within the Communications Ministry out of shady personal motives.
Regarding the second component of the bribery charge – the favorable coverage that the Elovitch-owned news website Walla gave Netanyahu – the lawyers are expected to argue that favorable coverage is not bribery, that this is the first time the state has issued an indictment in which news items are “translated” as illegal favors, that at most Netanyahu asked Elovitch to rein in a leftist news site that persecuted him, and that there is no connection between his legitimate requests from the businessman (“all the prime ministers spoke with publishers”) and Netanyahu’s minimal interference with matters concerning Bezeq.