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Confidant of PM turns state witness

22 February 2018

Opposition leaders are not hesitating to say that Netanyahu's days in power are numbered, after one of his confidants reportedly turned state witness in a bid to incriminate him on corruption allegations.

The former director of the communications ministry under Mr. Netanyahu, Shlomo Filber, agreed to testify about whether he organized positive media coverage for the leader on a news website, the person said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara attend an inauguration ceremony for a fortified emergency room at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, southern Israel, February 20, 2018.

In unsourced reports, Israeli media said Filber has now agreed to testify for the state in the case, providing evidence likely to complicate Netanyahu's battle to overcome his legal crisis. Netanyahu, who held the communications portfolio until past year, has not yet been named as a suspect in the case but is expected to be questioned.

Netanyahu swiftly and angrily denied any suggestion that he made an offer to a potential attorney general as "ludicrous".

Mr Netanyahu himself appeared ashen in video released late on Tuesday calling the claims "total madness".

Editors and executives at Walla also testified Tuesday and Wednesday.

"But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew", Netanyahu, who has said he is a victim of a political witch hunt, wrote in the posting, quoting Exodus 1:12.

"The Netanyahu era is over", he said.

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The new bribery case was one of two revealed on Tuesday involving the same former spokesman, a close Netanyahu confidant. But they presented an embarrassing new headache for him as a growing list of members of his inner circle gets swept up in scandals.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes in which the right-wing leader offered to limit the circulation of Israel Hayom, a free, pro-Netanyahu daily owned and published by USA billionaire and Republican party donor Sheldon Adelson, if Mozes gave the prime minister more favorable coverage.

Last week, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for fraud, breach of trust and bribery in two other cases.

Police have recommended indicting Netanyahu over accepting almost $300,000 in gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. The final decision on whether to indict the prime minister is the attorney general's.

Police have not commented on what Packer may have received, and Netanyahu has said everything he received were gifts from friends.

Israeli journalist Ben Caspit reported that judge Hila Gerstel was offered the position of Attorney General in 2015 by Nir Hefetz, a former personal spokesman for the Netanyahu family, through an intermediary.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Gabbay insisted that Netanyahu should resign immediately, claiming that other parties' leaders would agree with him.

So far, partners in his governing coalition have stood by Netanyahu, saying they were awaiting the attorney-general's next moves.

Confidant of PM turns state witness