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Court orders prosecutors to amend indictment against Netanyahu

Judges say ‘quite a few details are missing’ from charge sheet in 1 of 3 cases, but reject PM’s request for indictment to be thrown out

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with his lawyers in the courtroom, as his corruption trial opens at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with his lawyers in the courtroom, as his corruption trial opens at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool Photo via AP)

The Jerusalem District Court on Monday rejected a demand by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorneys to cancel the criminal charges against him due to issues with the filing process, but ordered prosecutors to amend the indictment in one of three cases the premier was charged in.

The judges said “quite a few details are missing” from the indictment in Case 4000, which they said are “material and relevant to the defendants’ defense.”

The case involves suspicions that Netanyahu granted regulatory favors benefitting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecoms, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his family from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site.

In their ruling, the judges instructed prosecutors to significantly amend the indictment to clearly distinguish Netanyahu from his family members, as well as Elovitch from his wife, Iris.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s lawyers have complained that the premier in many cases was grouped with his family in supposed demands from Elovitch to make various changes in Walla’s coverage. They said it was not clear why Netanyahu must answer for demands allegedly made by his wife or son.

The court said prosecutors must make clear who made the demands in every case and whether the prime minister was allegedly aware of the requests or involved in them.

It also told prosecutors to provide detailed information about the alleged contacts between Netanyahu and the Elovitches and the benefits they gave him. The premier’s lawyers had asserted that the information provided was not detailed enough.

“There is no place for generalizations or lack of details,” the judges wrote.

In total, judges told prosecutors to amend 21 clauses in the indictment due to insufficient details.

They also rejected a demand by Netanyahu’s lawyers to amend the charges in another affair, dubbed Case 1000.

Concerning Netanyahu’s demand to throw out the indictment because it was allegedly filed in contravention of a law allowing Knesset members to request parliamentary immunity, the court said there were no grounds to cancel the charges since they were filed after the prime minister had withdrawn a request for the Knesset to grant him immunity.

Netanyahu cheered the ruling.

“A tough blow for the prosecutors,” he said in a statement. “It’s again been proved that they didn’t search for a crime but rather invented a crime.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers, Boaz Ben Tzur (right) and Amit Hadad (second right), at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing on December 6, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In Case 4000, Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Shaul and Iris Elovitch are charged with bribery in the case.

Netanyahu also faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 as well as in Case 2000. The former involves suspicions Netanyahu illicitly accepted some $200,000 in gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage in exchange for legislation weakening the rival newspaper Israel Hayom.

Mozes was charged with bribery in the case.

Monday’s ruling comes after Netanyahu’s lawyers on Sunday asked to be shown Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s original orders to open the three criminal investigations against the premier, claiming police investigators operated a wide-ranging probe beyond the scope of their authority.

The lawyers argued to the court that existing investigation material indicates the investigations into the premier were improperly handled and may have begun before the attorney general authorized the probes. They asked the court to force prosecutors to disclose Mandelblit’s directions to police.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court at the start of his trial, May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Pool)

Also Sunday, the court authorized the release of some confidential information from the Netanyahu investigations to the defense team, partially approving a request from the prime minister’s lawyers.

The documents include the full testimony of former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua, and a previously redacted account on the arrest of state’s witness Nir Hefetz, formerly a Netanyahu spokesperson.

Netanyahu’s trial opened in May. Though the prime minister attended the first hearing, he was granted an exemption from appearing at later, largely procedural stages of the trial.

Netanyahu, who is the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office, denies any wrongdoing and has railed against the courts, prosecution, and media for what he terms a “witch hunt.”

His lawyers have repeatedly moved to delay and discredit the proceedings, filing complaints against the prosecution, alleging “criminal tactics” had been used against them, calling for changing the indictment against the prime minister, and, on Sunday, claiming that police investigators had used illegitimate means to secure evidence, thus disqualifying the charges.

Last month, the court delayed the start of the evidentiary stage from January to February. The court said that witness testimony would be pushed off by a month and that precise dates would be determined later.

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