The Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to skip the start of his corruption trial, requiring him to appear for the opening hearing on Sunday.
“The rule is that a defendant is present for the reading [of the indictment], which is the opening of the trial. This is the case in every criminal procedure including the current criminal procedure,” the judges wrote in their ruling.
“We did not find in the explanations of the petitioner reason to justify an exception to this rule,” they added.
Concerning his claim that his presence at the May 24 hearing was unnecessary as Netanyahu has read the indictment, the judges said it was necessary he be present to confirm he understands the charges against him.
They also dismissed his assertion that the large number of security guards accompanying him would violate Health Ministry guidelines limiting the number of people in a courtroom, as part of measures to contain the coronavirus. The judges said they had already taken his security detail into account when considering who would be allowed into the hearing.
Additionally, the judges rejected Netanyahu’s request to have a second lawyer in the courtroom, with defendants currently limited to one attorney at hearings as part of the virus restrictions.
Sources close to the premier told Hebrew media on Wednesday that Netanyahu would attend the hearing, in accordance with the judges’ ruling.
Defendants are generally required to attend the opening hearing of their trials, even though it consists mainly of the indictment being read out in full. Netanyahu’s next hearing is only expected to be held in several months.
The prime minister faces bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in one case, and fraud and breach of trust in two other cases.
He is accused of engaging in illegal activities to manipulate his media coverage and of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors.
The other defendants in the bribery case are Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, and his wife, Iris Elovitch. Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes is also a defendant in another case.
Netanyahu’s trial was originally scheduled for March 17, but was pushed off by two months after then-justice minister Amir Ohana declared a “state of emergency” in the court system in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Also Wednesday, the new government pushed off its first cabinet meeting — which was scheduled for Thursday — to Sunday at 11 a.m., just hours before the start of Netanyahu’s trial, according to Channel 12 news.
Netanyahu on Sunday swore in his new unity government, ending a 508-day political crisis during which Israel was ruled by a transitional government and held three consecutive elections.
Already in power for over a decade, Netanyahu will now likely be prime minister for at least another 18 months, as he fights the corruption charges. He forged a power-sharing coalition with rival-turned-partner Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and other allies who have agreed to join them. Gantz is set to become prime minister on November 17, 2021.
Earlier this month, the High Court of Justice shot down a petition to disqualify the Likud leader over his indictment. It also declined to strike down legislative changes made as part of the Netanyahu-Gantz power-sharing agreement, while admitting that there were “significant difficulties” and hinting that future challenges may still be considered.
Netanyahu in November became Israel’s first sitting prime minister with charges against him, when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would indict him. The charges were filed officially in January, when the prime minister dropped a bid for Knesset immunity.
Netanyahu denies the charges and claims, without providing evidence, that he is the victim of an attempted “political coup” involving the opposition, media, police and state prosecutors.