An expanded courtroom is being constructed at the Jerusalem District Court specifically for the coming stages of the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a Thursday Channel 13 report showed.
The trial marks the first time a prime minister has been indicted while in office, and a large audience is expected when the evidentiary stage begins in February.
In order to accommodate more people than would attend a regular trial, the court authorities ordered the construction of a larger courtroom for the proceedings. The work has now begun, with two existing smaller courtrooms being joined together and remodeled.
The TV report showed blurry footage of the early stages of the work at the courthouse in East Jerusalem.
Last week, the court delayed the start of the evidentiary stage From January to February. The court said witness testimony would be pushed off by a month, and that precise dates would be determined later.
Also Thursday the state prosecution rejected Netanyahu’s defense attorneys’ request from the court to throw out the charges against him, while claiming that law enforcement “invented” the corruption charges.
In their 200-page request, the prime minister’s lawyers alleged that police investigators used illegitimate means to secure evidence, thus disqualifying the criminal charges, and asked the Jerusalem District Court to throw out the case.
In a statement, the State Attorney’s Office denied any wrongdoing, saying that “the investigation as a whole was conducted in a fair and routine manner.”
“This is in contrast to the skewed and distorted picture presented by the defendant, who, through a shifting presentation of pieces of evidence… [construct] a narrative of an improper investigation,” it said.
The premier’s trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes officially opened in May, and has seen four preliminary hearings so far. Netanyahu attended the first hearing, but was granted an exemption from appearing at subsequent procedural hearings.
His lawyers have repeatedly moved to delay and discredit the proceedings, filing complaints against the prosecution, alleging “criminal tactics” against them, calling for amending the indictment against the prime minister, and arguing they have not received the full case files from the police and therefore cannot properly prepare a defense.
The opening of the trial had been previously pushed back from March to May due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The charges against the prime minister include accepting 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, and advancing policy benefiting powerful Israeli media moguls in exchange for more positive coverage in their publications.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and has railed against the courts, prosecution, and media for what he terms a “witch hunt” and an attempted coup.