1 of 2 | Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court where he is facing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, in East Jerusalem, Israel, on Wednesday. Pool photo by Yonatan Sindel/UPI | License Photo
March 23 (UPI) -- A onetime close aide to former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the stand for the first time in Netanyahu's ongoing corruption trial on Wednesday.
The previous aide, former Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber, told the Jerusalem court that Netanyahu had instructed him to "mitigate" the competition for the Israeli telecom company Bezeq.
In turn, Bezeq news site Walla reportedly published favorable coverage about Netanyahu and his family, The Times of Israel reports.
At the root of Filber's testimony was a 2015 meeting between Netanyahu and Bezeq's owner, Shaul Elovitch. As the meeting concluded, Filber said, Netanyahu gave Filber a series of directives, including shepherding a merger between Bezeq and satellite TV operator Yes.
Taken together, the moves would provide Elovitch with 1.8 billion NIS, or $559 million.
Filber told the court he felt caught between Netanyahu and Elovitch.
"There was a big connection between these two big men, and the two of them are toying with me," Filber said, according to The Jerusalem Post. "When I signed the plea deal, I decided I would tell the full truth."
The directives helping Bezeq also made some sense on a policy level, Filber claimed. He criticized the police and the judiciary for their handling of the case, calling the investigators who questioned him "two Rottweilers."
"I tried to explain the complexity to the police investigators, but they did not want to hear," Filber said. "They did not want to get the full picture from me -- just 'yes' or 'no.'"
Filber's testimony lasted six hours. He's one of the prosecution's two main witnesses for the Bezeq-Walla affair, also called Case 4000. The other is former top aide turned state witness Nir Hefetz, who already testified.
Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust. He denies wrongdoing, offering unsubstantiated claims that the charges against him are evidence of a political witch hunt led by his opponents.
Netanyahu attended his own trial on Wednesday, the first time in five months he's attended the proceedings in person.