Netanyahu seeks delay at court, weighs reviving parliamentary immunity bid

Defense lawyers ask for more time due to AG’s acknowledgment he did not okay probes in writing, which they claim requires nixing all the charges

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the Jerusalem District Court Wednesday to delay a hearing scheduled for next week in his corruption trial that he is currently required to attend. His lawyers also said the premier was considering reviving his bid for parliamentary immunity.

The hearing had been set to focus on Netanyahu’s response to the criminal indictment against him. But the prime minister’s defense team asked for more time to respond to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s acknowledgment that he had authorized the criminal probes against the premier verbally, but not in writing.

Netanyahu’s lawyers have argued that the lack of written consent undermines the entire case and have called for the charges to be canceled. The attorney general, however, has said there is no legal requirement for the authorization to be in written form.

The lawyers have asked that next week’s hearing focus on their own request to cancel the indictment altogether due to the alleged lack of formal approval for the investigation. According to the law, investigations into a prime minister need prior approval from the attorney general.

If the court accepts the demand, it would mean Netanyahu and the rest of the defendants won’t have to attend the January 13 hearing in person.

The defense team also argued that a recently filed amended charge sheet in Case 4000, which details over 200 alleged cases of intervention by Netanyahu or his associates in the Walla news site’s coverage as part of an alleged bribery deal, contains “substantial and relevant details for the defendants’ defense” that merit the postponement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with his lawyers in the courtroom, as his corruption trial opens at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool Photo via AP)

They argued that while the state had 20 days to prepare the amended indictment, they only got seven days to study it and prepare a defense. They also said the lockdown had hindered their work and that some of them had been required to quarantine.

The lawyers are asking for a monthlong postponement, Hebrew-language media reported.

The lawyers also said Netanyahu was weighing using this time — and the claim that the police investigations went ahead without the attorney general’s okay — to again seek parliamentary immunity, after he gave up a similar bid last year when it became clear he would fail to muster a majority.

The current Knesset seems even less likely to support such a motion (though the makeup of parliament following the upcoming March election is of course up in the air).

Shaul and Iris Elovitch, key suspects in Case 4000, also filed a request for a delay, the reports said. They said four of their lawyers were in coronavirus quarantine and cited other procedural issues in their request.

His lawyers have repeatedly moved to delay and discredit the proceedings, filing complaints against the prosecution, alleging “criminal tactics” had been used against them; calling for changing the indictment against the prime minister; and claiming that police investigators had used illegitimate means to secure evidence, thus disqualifying the charges.

Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, which involves suspicions that Netanyahu granted regulatory favors benefitting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecoms, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his family from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site. Elovitch and his wife, Iris, also face bribery charges in the case.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)

On Sunday, prosecutors filed an amended indictment against Netanyahu in Case 4000 after the court accepted the premier’s lawyers’ claim that the original indictment lacked important details. The amended indictment details some 230 specific requests to change Walla’s coverage in favor of Netanyahu and his family.

Prosecutors said there are indications that the prime minister himself was personally involved in some 150 of the demands, and that he was aware that other members of his family were making requests of Elovitch “at a considerable scale and in a consistent manner.”

Netanyahu also faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 as well as in Case 2000. The former involves suspicions Netanyahu illicitly accepted some $200,000 in gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage in exchange for legislation weakening rival newspaper Israel Hayom. Mozes was charged with bribery in the case.

Netanyahu’s trial opened in May. Though the prime minister attended the first hearing, he was granted an exemption from appearing at later, largely procedural stages of the trial.

Netanyahu, who is the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office, denies any wrongdoing and has railed against the courts, prosecution, and media for what he terms a “witch hunt.”

In November, the court delayed the start of the evidentiary stage from January to February. The court said that witness testimony would be pushed off by a month and that precise dates would be determined later.

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