Ex-Netanyahu aide testifies in corruption trial of ex-prime minister

Ex-Netanyahu aide testifies in corruption trial of ex-prime minister

Jerusalem — A one-time confidant of Benjamin Netanyahu began to testify against him on Monday in a corruption trial of the former Israeli prime minister in Jerusalem.

Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu’s former spokesman, is a key prosecution witness who is expected to testify critically at the trial, which revolves around accusations that Netanyahu committed fraud, breach of trust and bribery. The former prime minister, now the leader of the opposition, denies any wrongdoing.

Hefetz left a long career in journalism in 2009 to serve as the Netanyahu government’s spokesman, and in 2014 became the Netanyahu family’s spokesman and advisor. In 2018, after his arrest in connection with one of Netanyahu’s corruption cases, Hefetz signed a state witness deal and provided investigators with recordings of conversations with Netanyahu and his family.

His testimony was postponed for a week after Netanyahu’s defense lawyers requested time to review new evidence. Information provided last week claimed that Netanyahu’s wife, Sarah, accepted an expensive bracelet as a gift from two billionaire friends, Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.

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Netanyahu appeared before the Jerusalem District Court Monday morning surrounded by fellow Likud politicians.

He is the defendant in three separate cases. The first alleges that Netanyahu received gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy friends, including Milchan and Packer.

In the second case, Netanyahu is accused of orchestrating favorable coverage in a major Israeli newspaper in exchange for promoting legislation that would have hurt the news organization’s main competitor, a free, pro-Netanyahu daily.

The third, nicknamed Case 4000, alleges that Netanyahu promoted a hundreds of millions of dollars in law for the owner of Israeli telecom giant Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage on its news site Walla.

In his opening testimony, Hefetz said Netanyahu was a “control freak” when it came to his public image, and that “his control over everything related to media matters and in his social media channels could not be higher.”

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The former prime minister has long rejected calls to step down from the country’s leadership after he was indicted in 2019. He used the platform as prime minister to repeatedly criticize law enforcement, media and courts to launch a “hunt campaign” against him.

His trial officially began in 2020, while the country was mired in a two-year political crisis and has seen four repeat elections, with voters deadlocked over Netanyahu’s leadership and indictment. The trial is expected to take years.

Earlier this year, Netanyahu and his long-ruling Likud party were ousted from power after a coalition united in opposition to the long-serving prime minister formed a government.

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