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Netanyahu’s lawyers given more time to respond to charges, likely delaying trial

Deadline for PM’s attorneys moved from October 18 to late November; evidentiary stage of proceedings was scheduled to begin in January

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) talks with attorneys Micha Fettman (L) and Amit Hadad (R) inside the court room 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 court room as his corruption trial opens at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020 (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool Photo via AP)

The Jerusalem District Court on Thursday gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until November 29 to respond to the criminal indictment against him, pushing back the original October 18 date.

The delay came as Netanyahu’s lawyers sought to obtain additional evidence from the investigation into the premier.

The 40-day delay is likely to push off the evidentiary stage of the trial, which is scheduled to begin in January with three hearings per week.

Netanyahu’s lawyers asked to push the deadline back until after a discussion on transferring investigatory materials, which is scheduled for November 15.

Netanyahu’s trial on charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust opened in May in the Jerusalem District Court. He denies any wrongdoing and has railed against the courts, prosecution, and media for what he terms a “witch hunt.”

The premier’s lawyers and political allies have repeatedly sought to delay and discredit the investigations.

Last month, the Knesset rejected a proposal to form a parliamentary inquiry into Israel’s legal system, prompted by an allegation that law enforcement officials covered up a conflict of interest in order to protect one of the investigations into the prime minister.

The move sparked coalition infighting between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White faction, similar to a showdown over a similar proposal put forward in July.

Netanyahu supporters and allies have also targeted Netanyahu prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari, saying she should step down over accusations she illegally altered one of her real-estate properties.

The opening of the trial was previously pushed back from March due to the start of the pandemic.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said in remarks aired Tuesday that Netanyahu may have to be suspended as premier if he seeks to use his prime ministerial authority to influence the criminal proceedings.

Speaking to the ultra-Orthodox Mishpacha magazine, Mandelblit, who has previously stated that Netanyahu does not have to step down, said the prime minister could, in theory, have to be suspended due to a conflict of interest.

Netanyahu’s corruption allegations are a focus of the ongoing protests against the premier, which have been another major source of controversy amid political wrangling over coronavirus restrictions limiting Israelis’ ability to demonstrate.

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