Proposal to Ban Testimony of State Witnesses Who ‘Testify Under Pressure’

YERUSHALAYIM -
Nir Hefetz
Nir Chefetz. (Flash90)

Bombshell revelations this week by Channel 12 reporter Amit Segal have led to a proposal by MK Gideon Saar (Likud) to ban testimony by state witnesses who are subjected to undue pressure in order to testify. The proposal for a Knesset law on the matter comes after the broadcast of leaked protocols of conversations state witness Nir Chefetz had with police after he agreed to testify against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Case 4000, also known as the Bezeq-Walla News Case.

However, Saar told Army Radio on Wednesday that his proposal was unrelated to allegations of improper methods used in obtaining Nir Chefetz’s testimony.

“It is hard to blame me for coordinating with Benyamin Netanyahu for the simple reason that we have no relationship,” Saar quipped. During the last election campaign, Netanyahu accused him of plotting with President Reuven Rivlin to oust him from office. Saar denies it.

“Justice needs to pursue due process,” Saar said.

In response to the revelations, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office said that they “prove that state witness Nir Chefetz was subjected to shocking methods in order to ‘persuade’ him to testify. The case against the prime minister is collapsing.” Chefetz is considered the “star witness” in Case 4000, and much of the evidence in the case is said to hinge on his testimony.

Case 4000 is the influence-peddling probe that alleges that Netanyahu offered his good services to Israeli billionaire Shaul Elovich in return for positive coverage on the Walla news site. In 2017, Chefetz, a longtime aide to Netanyahu, signed on as a state witness. At the time, he told police that Netanyahu “knew everything,” and was part of a a deal with Bezeq chairperson Shaul Elovich to improve the conditions for his company, in exchange for securing better media coverage for the prime minister on Elovich’s Walla news site.

In the revelations broadcast this week, Chefetz is heard telling investigators after he signed the deal that Netanyahu sent him to “threaten” Yediot Acharonot publisher Noni Mozes, saying that “he told me to tell Mozes that if he didn’t ‘behave,’ Netanyahu would get [Yisrael Hayom publisher] Sheldon [Adelson] to cover the country with papers” denouncing Mozes. “That sounds to me like a threat” by Netanyahu, Chefetz said. He also said that Netanyahu let Mozes know that he had “personal information” about him, and that he would release it if Mozes “gave me any trouble,” Chefetz quoted Netanyahu as saying.

But in conversations broadcast on Channel 13 leaked from police files after the deal was signed, Chefetz is heard saying that he was no longer sure of the truth. “I am very confused about what I remember and what I said under questioning. Everything is confused. Memory is not my strong point. I don’t do well with long-term memory. I might remember things now, but I am liable to forget them six months from now.”

Chefetz turned state’s witness after he was imprisoned for over two weeks on suspicion of corruption, and according to the recordings, he suffered during that period. Chefetz is heard telling his interrogator that he was suffering from flea bites, and asking for something to relieve the pain. But the interrogator responds that he doesn’t need anything. “These bites are not endangering your life, just spit on where it hurts.” Referring to Chefetz’s initial stance that he stood on his right to remain silent, the interrogator said, “Is remaining quiet when I ask you one question worth all this suffering? What you need to understand is that we already know everything about you, we are gathering evidence against you. People are telling us things about you.”

Later, when Chefetz agrees to sign the deal, he is heard saying that he is “shocked” that he remembers anything, while the interrogator tells him, “You had two weeks to think about it.” Chefetz responds, “You are right, I didn’t realize that about the human brain,” to which the interrogator responds, “The brain knows how to identify what is in its best interest.”

On Tuesday, Segal presented other conversations from before the signing, with police threatening to send Chefetz to the poorhouse. “It’s all about the money, and we know how to make you completely broke,” the interrogator tells Chefetz. “We have uncovered and discovered anywhere and everywhere you have tried to hide throughout your life, and we found what you hid. And we will get at everything. Anything that you can imagine in your life will be determined by what happens in this room.”

According to Segal, Chefetz also testified that Netanyahu, himself and Elovich had met in the days before the 2015 report, and that a phone call had been made by Netanyahu to both arranging the meeting. However, an analysis of phone records showed that no such phone call had been made. Five months after his interrogation, when it became clear that this was the case, Chefetz was summoned by police to clarify his testimony. He is heard telling interrogators that “the conversation could have been after the election too, I was very involved in the campaign. I do remember that the meeting was a positive one, so it might have been after the election. I asked [then-head of Netanyahu’s office] David Shiran to arrange the meeting.” However, Shiran was not employed by Netanyahu at the time, Segal said.

At that point, Segal said, the interrogators left the room, but when they returned, Chefetz comes up with another date for the meeting – November 28, 2014 – a date that he had not mentioned in the past, and more evidence, Segal said, of either Chefetz’s memory issues, or his fear of being further intimidated by police. The Segal report pointed out other such lapses of memory by Chefetz based on the leaked recordings.

In his proposal, Saar says that courts need to be empowered to throw out state witness testimonies if a question arises about their motivation or source. “The courts need to use their authority wisely and take into account the full range of circumstances, including the seriousness of the crime, balanced against the level of damage to the rights of the defendant and the witness.”

In a statement, police said that they had “no comment” on the allegations that police used physical and economic intimidation to force testimony out of Chefetz. “We will not respond to media reports that paint a distorted picture of the truth, but we will point out that interrogation techniques are based on legal means and are adapted for situations based on strict standards used by police. All questioning of witnesses is done based on the law, and any other claim is incorrect.”


Updated Wednesday, November 6, 2019 at 1:42 pm .