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Court criticizes prosecution’s request to alter indictment in Netanyahu graft case

‘This is a frontal factual change,’ judge says of effort to amend date when ex-PM allegedly instructed his former aide-turned-state witness to assist Bezeq controlling shareholder

Shlomo Filber, former director-general of the Communications Ministry, arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial, May 25, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)
Shlomo Filber, former director-general of the Communications Ministry, arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial, May 25, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

The judges in opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial on Wednesday issued strong criticism of prosecutors for requesting to amend the indictment in one of the graft cases against the former prime minister.

The State Attorney’s Office is seeking to change the indictment in Case 4000 following the seemingly self-contradictory testimony of Shlomo Filber, a former Netanyahu confidante who became a state witness. Netanyahu is accused of granting lucrative benefits to Shaul Elovitch, then-controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecoms, in exchange for positive coverage from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site.

Prosecutors want the indictment to say the meeting was held “after defendant Netanyahu decided on Filber’s appointment” as director-general of the Communications Ministry, not after Filber was already appointed. They maintain the allegations regarding the context of the meeting stand, after Filber testified he may have misinterpreted a hand gesture by the ex-premier.

Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, has claimed the request shows the case “is dead.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the chief prosecutor in Case 4000 argued that amending the date of the meeting was not “a significant factual change” and would not harm Netanyahu’s defense.

“This is not changing the battlefront,” Yehudit Tirosh said.

Prosecutor Judith Tirosh arrives for a court hearing in the trial against former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem on March 14, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The court, however, did not seem to agree.

“This is a frontal factual change,” Judge Moshe Bar-Am said.

He suggested the prosecution’s request was unnecessary, noting a clause in the Israeli criminal code allowing judges to convict on the basis of evidence not included in the indictment, provided the defendant is given a proper opportunity to respond.

“At the moment, however, the lady is requesting an insurance policy. This is problematic,” he said.

Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman pressed Tirosh on whether the State Attorney’s Office could produce evidence showing the meeting took place before Filber’s appointment.

“If there is no evidence, then we have the evidence that is here today,” she said.

Defense attorneys for both Netanyahu and Elovitch told the court they oppose the prosecution’s request.

“The honorable court asked my friend if [prosecutors] maybe have additional evidence,” Netanyahu’s lawyer Boaz Ben Zur said. “I say the central heart of the evidence ‘never existed.'”

Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his graft trial, May 17, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The hearing came after several court sessions at which Filber appeared to cast doubt on his own testimony, the latest twist in a cross-examination that had already seen him make several hairpin turns. His shifting recollections have frustrated the prosecution, which had relied on his testimony to undergird its allegations in Case 4000.

Case 4000 is considered the most serious of the three cases against the former prime minister, who faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Elovitch and his wife Iris have been charged with bribery in the case. They also deny wrongdoing.

Netanyahu is also on trial in two other corruption cases, facing charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000. He has claimed the charges were fabricated in a political coup led by the police and state prosecution.

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