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Court agrees to 3-week recess in Netanyahu trial to review new evidence

Judges reject defense request to halt proceedings until September, but agree to compromise after ordering search through hundreds of thousands of messages from phone of key witness

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen as he arrives for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)
Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen as he arrives for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

The Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday adjourned the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for three weeks to allow the defense time to review new evidence.

The decision came after judges rejected the defense’s request to halt proceedings until September, following the recent order of a search through the phone of key witness, former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua. The directive will likely require sifting through 350,000 messages and emails from Yeshua’s phone.

The search will focus on Yeshua’s conversations with politicians, businessmen, and others that related to news coverage at Walla.

Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh had agreed that the proceedings should be delayed to allow time to search Yeshua’s phone and hand over the findings to the defense lawyers, but argued that a two-week postponement was sufficient. The court ultimately agreed to a three-week compromise.

The judges gave the prosecution until June 28 to hand over the new evidence. The trial will pick up on July 5 with the continuation of Yeshua’s testimony, the court said.

Former CEO of the Walla news website Ilan Yeshua arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for his testimony in the corruption trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, June 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yeshua is the first witness to give testimony in Netanyahu’s trial. He is a top witness in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is alleged to have abused his powers when he served as both premier and communications minister from 2014 to 2017, in order to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of Bezeq telecom company’s controlling shareholder Elovitch.

In exchange, Elovitch allegedly provided Netanyahu and his family with positive coverage on the Elovitch-owned Walla news website, including allowing the then-prime minister’s associates and family members to dictate editorial content and policy on a regular basis.

The expanded search will likely set back the overall trial schedule as the cross-examination of Yeshua will require far more time to complete if new evidence is introduced. The cross-examination has already lasted almost a month and had been expected to take several more weeks even without the additional evidence.

The defense has been trying to show that contrary to what Yeshua has been saying in court, orders to give certain stories greater or less visibility were commonplace not only from Netanyahu but also from other politicians, businessmen and companies, and were sometimes unrelated to the Elovitches.

Former Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch (C) and his wife Iris (R) at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in the graft trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, June 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In Wednesday’s hearing, Netanyahu’s attorney Boaz Ben Tzur argued that Walla articles said by prosecutors to have been published due to pressure from Netanyahu aides were in fact initiated by the website’s staff while other news outlets were posting similar stories.

In his testimony, Yeshua has described how Netanyahu’s son Yair and his wife, Sara, and aides to the then-premier, would systematically interfere in the running of Walla.

Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the case, while Elovitch and his wife, Iris, have been charged with bribery. All three defendants deny wrongdoing.

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