Netanyahu legal team’s pre-indictment hearing with AG resumes for second day

Defense lawyers for PM predict they will need many hours to finish presenting their arguments in Case 4000, the most serious of the three cases against him

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's legal team, including attorney Yossi Ashkenazi, center, arrive at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem for the hearing on the corruption cases in which Netanyahu is a suspect, on October 3, 2019. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's legal team, including attorney Yossi Ashkenazi, center, arrive at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem for the hearing on the corruption cases in which Netanyahu is a suspect, on October 3, 2019. (Flash90)

The second day of the pre-indictment hearings in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal cases got underway Thursday with his defense team predicting that, like the day before, they would need a lengthy session to present all of their arguments in the most serious of the three cases the premier faces.

Speaking to reporters as he arrived at the attorney general’s office in the Justice Ministry building in Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s attorney Yossi Ashkenazi said the day would be spent deliberating Case 4000, in which the prime minister faces an indictment for bribery as well as fraud and breach of trust.

“Yesterday we discussed Case 4000 for about 11 hours, and we are continuing today with the arguments,” Ashkenazi said. “I estimate that today we will need a similar amount of time in order to complete this discussion.”

“The attorney general’s office is paying a lot of attention, exactly as they should be in a hearing,” he continued. “I believe we will need the entire day to finish all of our arguments in the case and we will continue next week with the [other] cases.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on September 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ashkenazi said that during the previous day’s session the defense team provided new evidence in the form of “documents that were not in the investigation material.”

Amit Hadad, another of the premier’s attorneys, had said Wednesday: “We’re sure that when we finish, there will be no choice but to close the case.”

Netanyahu did not accompany his lawyers to the hearing. He was attending the swearing-in ceremony for the 22nd Knesset, the future of which already appears murky amid a political deadlock that is preventing the formation of a government. The ongoing logjam brought an unprecedented two rounds of elections within five months and threatens to lead to a third.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu’s defense team began presenting state prosecution officials with what they said were new arguments and fresh evidence in the cases, which they asserted contradicted the draft charges against the prime minister in the three graft cases he is facing.

Full text: The criminal allegations against Netanyahu, as set out by Israel’s AG

Case 4000, also known as the Bezeq case, involves suspicions that Netanyahu, while serving as communications minister, made regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, then controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, in return for ongoing positive coverage on Elovitch’s Walla news site. Netanyahu faces prosecution for fraud and breach of trust, and bribery, in this case — the most serious of the three against him.

Channel 12 news reported Wednesday that the defense was expected to request the extension of deliberations on Case 4000 from two to three days — a further extension beyond the one already agreed to by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Earlier this week, Mandelblit agreed to give the defense team four days to present arguments instead of the original two, with two days to be set out for Case 4000 this week and two more for Cases 1000 and 2000 next week. Any request to extend deliberations on Case 4000 beyond the allotted two days could cause the hearing to extend beyond the Yom Kippur holy day, which begins Tuesday evening — the current deadline.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, center, arrives at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem for the hearing on the corruption cases in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a suspect, on October 3, 2019. (Flash90)

According to Channel 12 news, the defense had prepared a document hundreds of pages long, based on research conducted by a retired police official who now runs a telecommunications news site, Avi Weiss.

Netanyahu’s lawyers had only submitted a single page to Mandelblit ahead of the hearing instead of a comprehensive file laying out the Likud party leader’s defense, as was expected by prosecutors.

In February, Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu pending the hearing process. The prime minister faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in all three cases, as well as a bribery charge in Case 4000.

Netanyahu has repeatedly claimed he is the subject of witch hunt, questioned the legitimacy of the decision-making process in the justice system, and singled out State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and the lead prosecutor handling the case, Liat Ben-Ari, as pushing a hard line against him.

Representing the prime minister at the hearings is a 10-strong defense team. They were squaring off with some 20 state prosecution officials, led by Mandelblit, Nitzan and Ben-Ari.

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