Netanyahu will likely testify in trial if no plea bargain reached, report says

Plea deal seen as unlikely, especially after Attorney General Mandelblit leaves office in five weeks; ex-premier denies TV report, says he hasn’t decided about taking witness stand

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, November 16, 2021, in Jerusalem. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, November 16, 2021, in Jerusalem. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to take the witness stand in the corruption trial against him if he does not reach a plea deal in the coming weeks, according to a Friday TV report.

Netanyahu is not required to testify at the trial and has not done so yet.

The Channel 12 report said his legal team had recently decided that it would be helpful if he testified. If Netanyahu takes the stand, it would not be until 2024, the report speculated, given the protracted nature of the proceedings and the hundreds of witnesses.

A Netanyahu spokesperson denied the report, saying the former premier “has not yet decided whether to testify in his trial or not.”

Netanyahu has also repeatedly said he is not seeking a plea bargain and expects to be acquitted, claiming the case against him is fabricated and without foundation.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will step down in five weeks when his term ends. If Netanyahu is going to sign a plea deal, he is expected to do it before Mandelblit leaves office, Channel 12 reported. The prospect of a plea deal is seen as unlikely.

The next attorney general, will likely be unwilling to forge a plea deal with Netanyahu early in the term, because he or she will lack the public legitimacy to take such a dramatic step, the report said.

By the time the next attorney general settles into the role, all of the important witnesses in the trial will have testified, which will decrease the chances of a plea deal, the report said.

Public criticism of the plea deal Mandelblit’s office worked out with Shas leader Aryeh Deri is also likely to hurt the chances of a deal with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has appeared in the courtroom three times since the corruption trial began over a year and a half ago.

The former premier is being charged in three separate cases. Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Case 4000.

In Case 4000, the most serious against the former premier, he is alleged to have worked to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of controlling shareholder of the Bezeq media company Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage on the Walla news site owned by Elovitch.

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.

In Case 1000, he is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

Netanyahu denies all allegations against him, and says the charges were fabricated by a biased police force and state prosecution service, overseen by a weak attorney general, in league with political opponents and the media.

In recent months, a former Netanyahu confidant and spokesperson, Nir Hefetz, has testified against him.

In recent testimony, Hefetz has said that Netanyahu covered his tracks by shredding documents, even “grocery lists,” that he tried “to rob the state’s funds for personal needs” on dozens of occasions, and that Hefetz feared the former prime minister was not fit to serve.

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