The testimony of former Director General of the Ministry of Communications, Avi Berger, continues today (Wednesday) in the Jerusalem District Court, in the trial of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul and Iris Elowitz, former controlling shareholders of Bezeq and Yes.
Berger was cross-examined by attorney Jacques Chen, representing Shaul Alovich.
Advocate Chen slammed Berger at the hearing that he was in a conflict of interest in the Ministry of Communications, in light of his previous work at Partner, which was Bezeq’s competitor; Berger claimed he did not know Kamir was a Partner lobbyist at the time. He said, “I did not know at the time of the appointment, but after I took office, I learned that Eli Kamir is a Partner lobbyist.”
Berger was VP of Engineering at Partner until April 2012 before being appointed Director General of the Ministry of Communications, where he worked on solutions to expand competition in fixed communications and wholesale market reform. Berger entered the Ministry of Communications in November 2014 and dealt with the approval of Partner to operate Generation 4. According to him, he had no restrictions of conflict of interest in the Ministry of Communications. Berger barely mentioned his involvement with Partner in the Securities Authority investigation.
Advocate Chen told Berger: “You will agree with me that dealing with issues that may affect a partner is an issue that may put you in a position of fear of a conflict of interest.” Berger replied: “No.”
Advocate Chen slammed Berger: “Partner’s lobbyist introduces you to the Minister of Communications so that Partner will be a partner in the Ministry of Communications, and you did not think to say in court.”
According to the defense, Berger changed his testimony between the Securities Authority investigation and the testimony in court regarding the request to expedite the Bezeq-Yas deal in a conversation with then-Prime Minister Harel Locker. Berger reiterated that he was asked to advance the deal. Berger that Minister Arden involved the handling of the approval of the Bezeq-Yes transaction for Bezeq’s cooperation with the wholesale market reform. In the cross-examination, Berger replied to Adv. Berger was asked whether, in a conversation with Netanyahu, when he was communications minister, he told him about the directive to cover both issues. Berger replied that they did not come down to these resolutions.
Chen: “When Prime Minister Netanyahu signs the ‘letter of initiation’, do you have no knowledge, no knowledge, that he did it in deviation from any policy or decision?”. Berger replied, “I do not know why he did it and I have no knowledge other than what I have said here.”
The prosecution is trying to prove through Berger – along with other witnesses including Shlomo Pilber who was the director general of the Ministry of Communications after Berger – the component of compensation that the Elowitz couple received from Netanyahu in exchange for meeting his demands from the Walla website.
Yesterday (Tuesday), Berger testified about the pressure exerted on him to agree to the Bezeq-yes deal in early 2015. Berger testified that Bezeq opposed the wholesale market reform due to the heavy economic consequences for it, and said that former Communications Minister Gilad Ardan refused to promote the Bezeq-yes merger , In which Shaul Alovich was interested.
At the end of 2014, Netanyahu replaced Minister Ardan in the Ministry of Communications and appointed Adv. Eitan Tzafrir as chief of staff. According to Berger’s testimony, Netanyahu informed him upon taking office that Tzafrir’s instructions were his own. In addition, Berger described a conference call with then-Prime Minister Harel Locker and officials at the Prime Minister’s Office, in which he and professional officials in his office were encouraged to promote the Bezeq-yes merger.
In May 2015, after the election and shortly after the formation of the government, Berger was fired in a phone call by Netanyahu, and Pilber, a state witness in the case, was appointed in his place.
Berger’s testimony is expected to continue next week. He is expected to be testified by Dror Strum, the former antitrust commissioner; And Felix Cohen, Eurocom’s CFO.
*** Presumption of innocence: It should be emphasized that even after the indictment was filed against them, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul and Iris Elowitz deny what was attributed to them, were not convicted of an offense, and have the presumption of innocence.