Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal team formally filed a request on Monday asking that the opening court session in the premier’s corruption trial, set for March 17, be postponed for 45 days.
Claiming they had not yet received all of the case material from the state prosecution, the prime minister’s lawyers asked the court for a continuance in the hearing “in order for [the state prosecution] to transfer all of the case materials to the defense (as we have requested), and to give the defense time to receive them and develop an assessment.”
Explaining the request, the chief attorney for Netanyahu’s defense, Amit Hadad, said in a Sunday statement, “A few months ago an indictment was filed against the prime minister, yet until now we have not received the material. Therefore, we applied to the court with a technical request to delay the date of the hearing, so that we can first receive the investigation material — and only afterwards appear in court.”
According to a report in the Haaretz daily, the delay in delivering the material hinges on a dispute between Netanyahu’s attorneys and prosecutors on how the documents should be handed over. Although the state prosecution has prepared the files, Netanyahu’s attorneys are demanding the documents be scanned and digitized, the report said.
Responding to Netanyahu’s request, prosecutors told the court they opposed pushing off the trial, but said Netanyahu did not need to attend the opening hearing. Prosecutors said the hearing did not have to be for the reading out of charges, which Netanyahu is required to be present for, but stressed it wanted the two sides to meet to determine the dates of future hearings.
Netanyahu, in November, became Israel’s first sitting prime minister with charges against him, when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would indict him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust — though the charges were only filed officially in January, when the prime minister dropped a bid for Knesset immunity. Netanyahu denies the charges and claims he is the victim of an attempted “political coup” involving the opposition, media, police and state prosecutors.
The charges were filed following the pre-indictment hearings in October. Those hearings were postponed from the initial scheduled date of July 10 — three months after the investigation material was made available to Netanyahu’s lawyers, who took more than a month to collect it.
They had asked the attorney general for a full-year delay, arguing that the scope of the documents was too large to review in three months.
Mandelblit refused that request, saying it was not in the public interest.
Mandelblit had in February 2019 announced his intention to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, in the three cases against him. The prime minister’s attorneys requested, and were granted, that the case files not be handed over prior to the April 9 national election in order to prevent information from leaking to the media and affecting the vote.
But after the election, the lawyers refrained from collecting the material for another month, citing a dispute over their fees. They were accused at the time of engaging in delay tactics.
The April election failed to produce a majority government, as did a followup vote in September. A third round of voting earlier this month has still not broken the political deadlock.
The prime minister faces fraud and breach of trust charges in two cases, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in a third.