Third Netanyahu confidant turns state’s witness in graft probes

Hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to meet US President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday, a third Netanyahu confidant turned state’s witness in the corruption investigations into the Israeli leader and his inner circle.

Nir Hefetz, who formerly served as the long-time Netanyahu family spokesman, signed a state’s witness agreement, agreeing to work with investigators in Case 4000.

It’s a growing probe in which Netanyahu and his wife have just become suspects. He was questioned by police in the probe last week.

Netanyahu wanted to keep his meeting with Trump focused squarely on friend and foe — thanking the American President for the upcoming move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, while lobbying against the Iran nuclear deal. But the latest development in the investigations means the continuing probes will cast a shadow over his entire US trip.

Two weeks ago, Shlomo Filber, another member of Netanyahu’s inner circle, signed a state’s witness agreement, agreeing to work with prosecutors. Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow, signed a similar agreement in August.

Hefetz was a suspect in Case 4000, which dealt with the relationship between Israel’s Ministry of Communications — then under Netanyahu — and Israeli telecommunications firm Bezeq, controlled by Netanyahu’s friend, Shaul Elovitch, also a suspect in the case. Prosecutors say Netanyahu advanced regulatory benefits worth up to 1 billion shekels (approximately $280 million) for Elovitch in exchange for favorable media coverage.

Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in all the graft probes, often saying, “There will be nothing because there is nothing.”

In a response to the latest development, a person close to the Israeli leader said, “When there is really something, you don’t need even a single state witness. And when there isn’t, even a thousand state witnesses won’t help.”

“The endless race for state witnesses is the best proof that there is nothing — and there will be nothing,” he added.