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Netanyahu was a 'control freak' over his public image, ex-spokesman says

If convicted the former PM faces a lengthy prison sentence

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ex-spokesman and close adviser began testifying against him at his corruption trial yesterday.

Speaking at the Jerusalem District Court with Netanyahu present, Nir Hefetz, one of a small group of ex-aides to turn state's witness, said that Netanyahu was a "control freak" when it came to his public image, and that "his control over everything relating to media matters and in his social media channels could not be higher".

"Netanyahu spends at least as much of his time on media as he spends on security matters, including on matters an outsider would consider nonsense," Hefetz told the court.

Netanyahu, who served as prime minister for 12 consecutive years but lost power in June and is now the opposition leader, has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud in cases that centre on alleged regulatory favours he awarded to media tycoons in return for positive press coverage and illicit receipt of gifts, including cigars and champagne.

He also provided key information on the link between the favours the former prime minister is alleged to have received and the benefits prosecutors say he gave the Bezeq telecom company, Shaul Elovitch, in return.

Hefetz said that Elovitch granted the Netanyahus "the highest level of control" over the Walla news site, including "what would be on the homepage and what the headline would be."

READ: Netanyahu's family requests extension of state-funded security protection

Moreover, he alleged that Netanyahu's wife, Sara, had accepted an expensive bracelet as a gift from two billionaire friends, Hollywood Producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.

Hefetz left a career in journalism in 2009 to work as an aide for Netanyahu's government and in 2014 became the Netanyahu family's spokesman and adviser.

However, in 2018 he signed a deal to turn state's witness and provide investigators recordings of conversations with Netanyahu and his family after his own arrest.

Netanyahu is entangled in four political scandals: Case 1000 which involves allegations that the PM and his wife accepted illegal gifts from businessmen; Case 2000 which accuses Netanyahu of attempting to buy favourable newspaper coverage; Case 3000, also known as the "submarine scandal" would have seen Israel purchase naval vessels and submarines from a German firm with millions of shekels allegedly "skimmed" off the top of the deals for personal profit; and Case 4000, in which a close associate of Netanyahu is suspected of providing confidential information to Israel's largest telecoms company.

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