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Court rejects Netanyahu’s request to delay next hearing of his corruption trial

Judges find no reason to accept claim by prime minister’s legal team that case must wait and see if indictments are filed against corporations linked to alleged crimes

The start of the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/POOL)
The start of the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday rejected a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorneys to delay the next hearing in his corruption trial on the grounds that other indictments may be filed in related cases.

Netanyahu’s legal team had asked to court to wait until a final decision is made on filing indictments against telecommunications giant Bezeq, the Walla news website, and the Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper.

The attorneys were basing their appeal on a court’s right to merge separate trials if they are deemed tied to each other.

Last week, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he was considering filing indictments against the three corporations, pending a hearing, over issues related to charges against Netanyahu in two of his three cases, known as Case 4000 and Case 2000.

“We did not find a point to grant the requests” for a delay due to possible future indictments, the panel of three judges responded on Tuesday.

They noted that currently there is no indictment against the corporations, or any final decision to file one. In addition, the circumstances and content of any future indictment, its relation to the prime minister’s cases, or where it will be filed is not known.

“In these circumstances, there is no justification for delaying the hearing in the proceedings before us,” the judges ruled.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

State prosecutors had also objected to a delay, telling the court that its authority to unify trials rests on the existence of separate indictments, but since there are no existing indictments against the corporations the argument for delay is irrelevant.

They also warned that a further delay in the trail would be a “miscarriage of justice” for the public interest, whereas “it is unclear what miscarriage of justice will be caused to the applicant due to the failure to join [with his trial] the corporations.”

Netanyahu’s attorneys had argued that “the current indictment [against Netanyahu] is flawed by excluding the corporations that are a key and necessary direct integral part” of the prime minister’s case.

They had also urged joining the cases to prevent wasting court resources on two trials and to prevent a situation in which contradictory decisions are given in each case.

Netanyahu’s legal team has made repeated efforts to delay the court hearings, most recently securing a delay in a session scheduled for January 13, that was put off until February 8 due to a national lockdown ordered to curb the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

The hearing is set to focus on Netanyahu’s response to the criminal indictment against him. It was set to be the second time the prime minister attends a hearing in the corruption case.

Earlier in January, the judges rejected a request by Netanyahu’s lawyers to delay the hearing for reasons relating to the case itself. The prime minister’s defense team had asked for more time to respond to recently resubmitted indictments and to Mandelblit’s acknowledgment that he had not authorized the criminal probes against the premier in writing, but only verbally.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of his trial on corruption charges, May 24, 2020. Visible behind him are two of the three judges in the case, Rivka Friedman-Feldman and Oded Shaham (Screen capture/Government Press office)

Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, which 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. Elovitch and his wife, Iris, also face bribery charges in the case.

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 rival newspaper Israel Hayom. Mozes was 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.

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 claiming that police investigators had used illegitimate means to secure evidence, thus disqualifying the charges.

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.”

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