Netanyahu ex-aide 'signs state witness deal' in corruption probe

News of the agreement broke ahead of a meeting between the Israeli prime minister and US President Donald Trump at the White House

File - In this Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 file photo, Nir Hefetz, a longtime media adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family, sits in a Magistrate court in Tel Aviv, Israel. Heifetz, a confidant of Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday agreed to testify against the prime minister in a burgeoning corruption case, becoming the third former aide to turn against the Israeli leader in a series of scandals and casting a shadow over a high-profile visit to the White House.(AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)
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An ex-aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signed a state witness deal in a corruption probe linked to his former boss, Israeli media reported on Monday, dealing a new setback to the leader.

News of the agreement broke ahead of Mr Netanyahu's meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House later on Monday.

The widely reported agreement between Israeli authorities and Nir Hefetz, a former spokesman for the Netanyahu family, comes as corruption investigations into the prime minister intensify.

Israeli police provided no details on the reported agreement. Mr Hefetz would be the third Netanyahu associate to sign a state witness deal in recent months.

An aide to Mr Netanyahu immediately denounced the reports and proclaimed the long-serving prime minister's innocence.

"When there's something there, it doesn't take even one state witness," the aide said.

"And now, even a thousand state witnesses will not help."


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On Sunday, an Israeli court released Mr Hefetz and telecoms mogul Shaul Elovitch and put them under house arrest after 14 days in custody.

Mr Hefetz is alleged to have acted as a messenger between Mr Netanyahu, Mr Elovitch's telecoms group Bezeq and news website Walla!, media reports say.

Police suspect Bezeq was given regulatory breaks in return for Mr Netanyahu receiving positive coverage on Walla!, a news website owned by the telecoms group.

MrHefetz is also suspected of trying to bribe a retired judge to block an investigation into the prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu, over alleged misuse of public funds, according to the reports.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Mr Hefetz had agreed to hand over recordings of Mr Netanyahu and his wife as part of the state witness deal.

Last month, Israeli police recommended Mr Netanyahu's indictment on two other cases of alleged bribery. The attorney general is now considering how to move forward in those cases.

In one case, Mr Netanyahu and family members are suspected of receiving one million shekels (Dh) in gifts, including luxury cigars, champagne and jewellery, from wealthy figures in exchange for financial or personal favours.

In the other case, investigators suspect the prime minister of trying to reach an agreement with the owner of Yediot Aharonot newspaper for more favourable coverage.

Israeli media reported that Mr Hefetz could also provide testimony in those two investigations.

The building investigations into Mr Netanyahu's affairs have raised questions over whether the 68-year-old will eventually have to step down.

He has been prime minister for a total of around 12 years.

The investigations have also led to speculation in the Israeli media that he may opt for early elections in the coming months in a bid to bolster his standing before a decision on indictments is made.

Polls have suggested Mr Netanyahu could remain prime minister in fresh elections despite the corruption investigations hanging over him.

He is also set to reap further political benefits in May when the United States relocates its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move popular among Israelis though denounced across the world.

Before boarding the plane for the US on Saturday night, Mr Netanyahu said he did not want to call early elections and hoped his right-wing coalition would survive its entire mandate, which expires in November next year.