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Court again delays resumption of Netanyahu trial, putting it off till July 19

Postponement puts restart of proceedings just 2 days before summer recess; delay comes at request of prosecutors who need more time to provide defense with missing materials

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, enters a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his corruption trial, April 5, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, enters a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his corruption trial, April 5, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

The Jerusalem District Court on Monday said there would a further delay to the trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announcing it will restart on July 19 instead of next Monday as planned.

It was the second time proceedings have been held up following a court order that defense attorneys be provided with new evidence gleaned from messages and emails on the phone of former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua, a key witness in the case.

Prosecutors asked for the delay because they needed more time to provide all the necessary material after defense attorneys argued that they were not given the texts from all relevant conversations on Yeshua’s phone during an earlier search.

The new target date is just two days before the start of the court’s summer recess, which continues until September. The Jewish High Holidays in September and October will add a further delay to proceedings.

There are another seven hearings currently scheduled for Yeshua’s testimony, meaning it is now expected to continue beyond High Holiday period.

Last week the court postponed the restart of the trial to allow defense attorneys time to review the new evidence. That decision came after the court partially accepted their argument that it would take longer to sift through some 350,000 messages and emails on Yeshua’s phone.

Former CEO of Walla news website Ilan Yeshua at the District Court in Jerusalem, June 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Judges previously rejected the defense’s request to halt proceedings until September and instead granted an initial three-week delay, which was then extended.

Yeshua is the first witness to give testimony in Netanyahu’s trial. He is a top witness in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is alleged to have abused his powers, when he served as both premier and communications minister from 2014 to 2017, in order to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of Bezeq telecom company’s controlling shareholder Elovitch.

In exchange, Elovitch allegedly provided Netanyahu and his family with positive coverage on the Elovitch-owned Walla news website, including allowing the then-prime minister’s associates and family members to dictate editorial content and policy on a regular basis.

The expanded search of Yeshua’s phone will likely set back the overall trial schedule further as his cross-examination will require far more time to complete if new evidence is introduced. The cross-examination has already lasted almost a month and had been expected to take several more weeks even without the additional evidence.

The defense has been trying to show that contrary to what Yeshua has been saying in court, orders to give certain stories greater or less visibility were commonplace not only from Netanyahu but also from other politicians, businessmen and companies, and were sometimes unrelated to the Elovitches.

Former Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch (C) and his wife Iris at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in the graft trial of former prime minister Benajmin Netanyahu, June 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s attorney Boaz Ben Tzur has argued that Walla articles said by prosecutors to have been published due to pressure from Netanyahu aides were in fact initiated by the website’s staff, and other news outlets were posting similar stories.

In his testimony, Yeshua has described how Netanyahu’s wife Sara, their son Yair, and aides to the then-premier would systematically interfere in the running of Walla.

Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the case, while Elovitch and his wife, Iris, have been charged with bribery. All three defendants deny wrongdoing.

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