TEL AVIV—A confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned state witness for the Israeli police and will testify in a corruption probe, a person familiar with the matter said Wednesday, the latest twist in a series of cases that threaten to bring down Israel’s leader.
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. Mr. Filber agreed to testify about whether in return he pushed regulation that benefited the site’s owner, said the person.
Mr. Filber was arrested Sunday and turned state witness in a deal he reached with police late Tuesday, the person said. He is one of a handful of Netanyahu confidants and business executives police arrested this week on suspicion of fraud, breach of trust and obstruction of justice.
The latest investigation, known as Case 4000, is one of five corruption investigations that now surround Mr. Netanyahu and his associates. Israeli police last week urged that he be indicted in two of those cases. Mr. Netanyahu has denied all wrongdoing. Mr. Netanyahu hasn’t been named by police as a suspect in Case 4000, but Israeli media have reported that he is expected to face police questioning.
A spokesman for the prime minister didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday on Mr. Filber turning state witness. A spokesman for the police declined to comment.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Mr. Netanhayu quoted Exodus 1:12: “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.”
Mr. Netanyahu called the fresh police investigation into him “madness” in a separate Facebook post on Tuesday, saying the cases sought to “force the creation of a cloud of suspicions over the head of the prime minister.” He also said the claim that he acted in favor of the news website’s owner “at the expense of practical considerations is simply baseless.”
Shlomo Filber, left, at the Magistrate Court in Tel Aviv on Sunday. Photo: REUTERS
The latest police case likely has months to run before investigators decide whether to recommend charges to state prosecutors. In the two cases in which police already have urged an indictment, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will consider the evidence and decide on formal charges. That process could also take months.
Israel’s opposition parties have pounced on Mr. Netanyahu’s troubles, calling on him to resign. “The era of Netanyahu is over,” Avi Gabbay, head of the opposition Labor Party said in a Facebook post Wednesday.
Mr. Netanyahu is resisting calls to resign, and polls continue to show solid support for his Likud party. Likud would win 26 seats in an election, down from its current 30 seats, but still more than any other party, according to a poll last week by broadcaster Channel 2.
Israeli police have recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the leader and his party still have a strong base of support.
Source: Channel 2 poll published Feb. 14 of 598 Israeli adults.
In his Wednesday Facebook post, Mr. Netanyahu included a picture of a poll that showed Likud would win 34 seats in an election. Israeli media reported the poll was by a Tel Aviv-based pollster.
Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition partners also have said that they won’t pull the plug on the government unless state prosecutors issue formal indictments against the leader.
Still, the investigations are polarizing Israelis. Based on the same Channel 2 poll, about 48% of Israelis want the prime minister to resign due to the police recommendations. That is down from December, when 60% of Israelis said the prime minister should resign if police urge charges against him.
Mr. Netanyahu’s supporters consider the investigations all part of a police and media campaign to force him from power.
Investigators have pieced together a picture of an administration that allegedly traded favors with business tycoons, government officials and media moguls.
Mr. Filber served in the communications ministry from 2015 to 2017, when Mr. Netanyahu was serving as his own communications minister.
Israel Securities Authority last year launched an investigation into information sharing between the communications ministry and the Israeli telecommunications firm Bezeq. The probe also involved Bezeq’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch.
The securities regulator later passed its evidence to the police. The police now allege Mr. Filber worked with Bezeq executives to implement regulation that benefited the firm in return for positive coverage on the prime minister on a news site owned by Bezeq called Walla.
Police said Tuesday they had also arrested Mr. Elovitch. A lawyer for Mr. Elovitch didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday. A spokesperson for Bezeq declined to comment.
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