Netanyahu due in court for last preliminary hearing on December 6

Prosecutors push back against attorneys’ claims investigation transcripts were edited, but acknowledge gap in transcripts

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)

The next court date in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial has been set for December 6, his attorneys said on Sunday.

Netanyahu will be in attendance for the final stage of preliminary arguments.

The evidence phase of the trial, in which witnesses are questioned, will begin in January.

Netanyahu’s trial on charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust opened in May in the Jerusalem District Court. Though the prime minister attended the first hearing, he did not make an appearance in the courtroom for a second hearing earlier this month.

Netanyahu is accused of offering to advance legislation benefiting powerful Israeli media moguls in exchange for more positive coverage in their publications. He has also been charged with accepting some $200,000 in illicit gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.  He denies any wrongdoing.

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)

Also Sunday, prosecutors in the three cases in which Netanyahu is charged pushed back against claims by another defendant, telecom mogul Shaul Elovitch, that the prosecution censored transcripts of police questioning in the case in the evidence provided to defense attorneys.

Elovitch’s attorneys compared the transcripts, which run to tens of thousands of pages, with the recordings provided to the defense. In one passage, an investigator questioning Elovitch’s son Or tries to convince him to urge his father to change attorneys. Elovitch’s attorney, Jacques Hen, counseled against him turning state’s witness, and the conversation with Or was part of the bid to change the father’s mind.

But in the transcript, Hen’s name is missing in several places, replaced by an ellipsis, making it difficult to discern the investigator’s intention.

Elovitch’s attorneys claimed last week that the transcripts were edited before they were handed to the defense, and demanded a delay in the trial so they could go over all the transcripts.

In its response Sunday, the state prosecution rejected the accusation of evidence tampering and noted it had passed on to the defense attorneys both the transcripts and the original recordings.

“On the contrary,” read the prosecution’s response, handed to the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday, “from the [defense team’s] own claims it is clear that all investigation materials were handed over — otherwise how could they have identified the gaps between the recordings and the transcripts?”

The response admitted that “an examination of the transcripts reveals it has gaps in some places,” but said the transcripts were produced by a private transcription company, and the quality of the transcripts was affected by “the difficulty in hearing the words or understanding the conversation (transcribers don’t usually understand the subject matter in detail, and conversants often interrupt each other).”

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his home in the northern coastal town of Caesarea, July 25, 2020. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

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, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecom, in exchange for positive news coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site. Defense attorneys last week cited the transcript problems in asking the court to make Case 4000 the last of the Netanyahu cases to be tried.

The prime minister stands accused of taking bribes, as well as fraud and breach of trust, in Case 4000.

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

Netanyahu has said he is the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy seeking his ouster — involving the left-wing opposition, media, police and state prosecutors — and called the allegations baseless.

The Jerusalem District Court has set a fast pace to the trial. The court will convene three times a week, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

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