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Netanyahu defense attorneys allege ‘criminal’ tactics by prosecutors

PM’s defense team says state ‘willfully’ altered transcripts of police questioning of key suspects to hide improper actions by investigators

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) talks with attorneys Micha Fettman (L) and Amit Hadad (R) inside the courtroom as his corruption trial opens at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020 (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) talks with attorneys Micha Fettman (L) and Amit Hadad (R) inside the courtroom as his corruption trial opens at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020 (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool Photo via AP)

Attorneys representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his graft trial lashed the state prosecution on Tuesday for what they depicted as attempts by the prosecution to hide purportedly “criminal” tactics used in the investigation.

Netanyahu’s defense attorneys have alleged that police employed questionable methods to get Or Elovitch, the son of Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch, to try to pressure his father into turning state’s witness against the prime minister.

Last year, Channel 12 reported that Shaul Elovitch, who was put in custody twice as part of the Case 4000 investigation, was once held at a detention facility that had a room designated for detainees to speak freely with their attorneys, without police listening in. However, bugs were said to have been installed in that room as Elovitch’s son was sent in, in an alleged police effort to reach a state witness deal with the elder Elovitch.

Police investigators had believed attorney Jack Chen — who provided legal advice to Netanyahu in two other cases against him, known as cases 1000 and 2000 — was preventing Elovitch from agreeing to testify against the premier and turning state’s witness, according to the report.

Police then decided to use his Or — who had also been detained by police on suspicion of being involved in the case — in an attempt to get him to switch lawyers.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing in Case 4000, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

Netanyahu’s attorneys complained in July to the Jerusalem District Court about disparities between recordings of the conversations between investigators and Or Elovitch and the transcripts provided by the prosecution.

In one passage cited by the attorneys, in which an investigator questioning Or tries to convince him to urge his father to change attorneys, Chen’s name is missing in several places in the transcript, replaced by an ellipsis, making it difficult to discern the investigator’s intention.

Last month, the court gave prosecutors until September 1 to explain whether they have an amended, true-to-life transcript of the police interrogation of Or Elovitch. If there is such a transcript, prosecutors were instructed to explain when they became aware of its existence and why it wasn’t turned over to the defense. The judges also told prosecutors to explain any difference between the recording of the interrogation and the transcript that was given to Elovitch’s lawyers.

The prosecution has denied wrongdoing, noting that the case file provided to defense attorneys included all the original recordings and saying gaps in the transcripts were the fault of an outside transcription company used to produce them.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu’s attorneys rejected the claims, accusing the prosecution of “willfully editing and removing essential parts of the transcripts of the questioning of Or Elovitch in order to hide the criminal strategy employed in the investigation, in its bid to turn Shaul Elovitch into a state’s witness so he could lie and implicate Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

Prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari (2nd-L) and Shaul Elovtich (2nd-R) at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in the criminal cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 19, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

The statement added: “Now it turns out that the prosecution knew that the transcripts of Or Elovitch were distorted. The more we examine the evidence, the more we find this is only the tip of the iceberg. An unbelievable number of improper investigative actions were taken in the prime minister’s cases, all in order to undermine Prime Minister Netanyahu at all costs.”

The claims of police misconduct are part of Netanyahu’s bid to shape the proceedings of the trial.

The prosecution has requested that the hearings in the evidence phase start with Case 4000 — considered the most serious of the three — in which the premier is accused of approving regulatory moves benefiting Elovitch and Bezeq in exchange for positive news coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site. It is the case in which Netanyahu faces the most serious charge — bribery.

Defense attorneys first cited the transcript problems in July as a reason for the court to make Case 4000 the last of the Netanyahu cases to be tried.

The state prosecution responded to the accusation on Tuesday with a brief statement sent to Channel 12. It read: “We again reject the false claim that law enforcement sought to ‘undermine the prime minister,’ as the defense attorneys claim. There is no basis for the claim that any law enforcement official ever asked Mr. Elovitch to turn state’s witness and lie in his testimony. Any attempt to depict events in that way is false. The prosecution will not be dragged into conducting the trial through the media, and all of its answers to all of the claims will be given at trial.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is surrounded by Likud lawmakers as he gives a press statement ahead of the start of his trial, at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Elovitch and his wife Iris each also face bribery charges in Case 4000.

In the other two cases, dubbed by police “1000” and “2000,” Netanyahu is accused of soliciting and receiving allegedly illegal gifts in exchange for helping billionaire friends, and of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage.

Netanyahu appeared at the Jerusalem District Court in May for the start of his trial, making him the first sitting Israeli premier to stand trial on criminal charges.

The next court date in Netanyahu’s corruption trial is set for December 6. He will be in attendance for the final stage of preliminary arguments.

The prime minister has denied wrongdoing and claimed the indictment against him was an effort by the media, political rivals, law enforcement and prosecutors to force him from office.

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