'A happy day' for the defense says former lawyer for ex-PM

Court rejects prosecution’s request to amend Netanyahu indictment

Judges rule that altering alleged timing of meeting at heart of bribery accusation would be unfair to defense; they okay adding witnesses in Case 1000, dealing with illicit gifts

Former prime minister and current opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu during a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 31, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former prime minister and current opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu during a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 31, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The judges in opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial on Tuesday rejected a request by prosecutors to amend the indictment in one of the graft cases against the former prime minister.

Judges ruled that “the requested amendment could harm… the defendants’ right and ability to conduct their defense.”

The State Attorney’s Office was seeking to change the indictment in Case 4000 following the seemingly self-contradictory testimony of Shlomo Filber, a former Netanyahu confidant 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 wanted the indictment changed to say a meeting, during which Netanyahu allegedly instructed Filber to action to benefit Elovitch, was held after Netanyahu decided on Filber’s appointment as director-general of the Communications Ministry, rather than after Filber was appointed, as it currently reads. 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 and also cast doubt on when the meeting was even held.

In rejecting the alteration, the judges also noted the advanced stage of the trial and that Filber is already being cross-examined.

Micha Fettman, a lawyer who previously represented Netanyahu, said the judges’ decision marked “a happy day” for the defense, and a failure by the prosecution. The state prosecution, he noted, had erred in specifying in the indictment when the meeting at issue took place, rather than being vague as to the timing.

Fettman also noted, however, that the court ruled out amending the indictment “at this stage.” And he stressed that there is leeway in the legal code — under Clause 184 of the Criminal Procedure Law — for a court to convict on the basis of facts that are not included in an indictment.

After making several hairpin turns on the stand, Filber, during recent cross-examination sessions, appeared to undermine his own testimony. His shifting recollections have frustrated the prosecution, which had relied on his testimony to undergird its allegations in Case 4000.

Shlomo Filber, former director general of the Communications Ministry, in court during the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 31, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The case 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 all 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 all the charges were fabricated in a political coup led by the police and state prosecution.

Filber’s cross-examination continued Tuesday, with Netanyahu in court for the hearing.

While it denied the state’s request to amend the indictment, the court accepted the prosecution’s bid to add three more witnesses in Case 1000, which involves suspicions that Netanyahu illicitly accepted gifts including jewelry, cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Israeli Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

The three new witnesses in Case 1000 are Milchan’s daughter Elinor, Packer’s personal assistant Ian Morris, who bought the jewelry, and Inbar Blankman, who worked at the Caprice Jewelry Shop in Ramat Gan where the jewelry was procured.

In allowing the added witnesses, the judges reasoned that the court has yet to begin hearing testimony in that 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.

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