Court officials and police have decide to beef up security for the judges who are to preside over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, opening next week, according to a new report.
The Shin Bet security service is also assessing how to deal with the security challenges of having a sitting prime minister on trial for the first time in Israel’s history, Channel 13 reported on Wednesday,
Shin Bet security personnel recently toured the Jerusalem District Court building to review conditions on the ground, the report said.
No details were provided on any specific threats either to the judges or the prime minister.
On Wednesday the court rejected Netanyahu’s request to skip the start of his corruption trial, requiring him to appear for the opening hearing Sunday.
Concerning his claim that his presence at the May 24 hearing was unnecessary as the indictment against him is read out, 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.
Netanyahu’s trial is set to begin Sunday after it was originally scheduled to launch March 17 but was pushed off at that time by two months after then-justice minister Amir Ohana declared a state of emergency in the court system in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
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 denies wrongdoing and claims the “trumped-up charges” are an effort by opponents to boot him from office.
Although the prime minister initially requested parliamentary immunity, he later withdrew the request when it became clear that it he did not have a majority in the Knesset to grant it.
On Thursday the Permits Committee at the State Comptroller’s Office was set to once again consider allowing Netanyahu to receive outside funding for his legal expenses in the series of graft cases.
Netanyahu is seeking permission for some NIS 2 million ($570,000) in funding from Australian billionaire and personal acquaintance James Packer, Channel 13 reported.
According to the report, in the meantime Netanyahu has only two attorneys representing him in all three of the cases against him.
Similar requests to allow financial assistance have been made by the prime minister three times in the past and each was refused by the committee. However, the committee is now composed of different officials than those who rejected the premier’s former requests.
Three members of the four-person committee resigned last August amid a dispute with the new State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman over the prime minister’s cases. Channel 13 reported at the time that the comptroller had lashed out at them over their demand that Netanyahu return money he had received from his cousin for his legal cases, calling it an overstep of the committee’s authority.
The resignations were largely an act of protest, as their two-year terms were due to end the next month in any case. The committee’s chair did not resign but his term ended in September. Englman then appointed the committee’s new members.
Netanyahu is one of Israel’s richest politicians, with Forbes reporting last year he was worth NIS 50 million ($13.8 million).