Netanyahu’s trial delayed after judge tests positive for COVID

Hearings were canceled last week as court awaited prosecution response to reports of illicit spyware use by police

An illustration of then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) facing Jerusalem District Court judges in his corruption trial, February 8, 2021. (Biana Zakutnik)
An illustration of then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) facing Jerusalem District Court judges in his corruption trial, February 8, 2021. (Biana Zakutnik)

This week’s scheduled court hearings in the ongoing corruption trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been postponed after judge Moshe Bar-Am tested positive for COVID, the Jerusalem District Court said Sunday evening.

Bar-Am is part of a panel of three judges — alongside Rivka Friedman-Feldman and and Oded Shaham — appointed to Netanyahu’s trial.

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases. He 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. He denies wrongdoing and says the charges were fabricated in a political coup led by the police and state prosecution.

The judges were meant to respond this week to an appeal by Netanyahu’s attorneys demanding that materials taken illegally from the phone of state witness Shlomo Filber be turned over to the court or to defendants.

Planned court discussions were canceled last week as well to allow state prosecutors to complete an investigation into claims of widespread illicit hacking by police using NSO Group’s powerful Pegasus software, among other advanced technologies.

Prosecutors relied on “information provided by competent authorities within the Israel Police” to check about 1,500 phone numbers associated with parties investigated in the Netanyahu trial. The check focused on both standard wiretapping and the use of more “advanced” technologies.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his ongoing corruption trial, on November 22, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

They found that the only person connected to the case who was spied on with the NSO Group’s Pegasus software was Filber, the former director of the Communications Ministry and a key witness in Case 4000.

Prosecutors claimed that the spyware was activated on his phone for about a day but that no material relevant to the case was found, and asked the court to continue proceedings as scheduled.

Lawyers for the defendants and associates of Netanyahu rejected the state prosecutors’ claims and demanded a state commission of inquiry.

Former Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber arrives for a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court on February 18, 2018. (Flash90)

Delays in Netanyahu’s trial have not been uncommon.

Last July, the Jerusalem District Court postponed the trial until September, following a request made by the prosecution to put off testimony by former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua due to “personal reasons,” a request ceded by the court.

A previous delay was due to a court order that defense attorneys be provided with new evidence gleaned from messages and emails on the phone of Yeshua.

Prosecutors previously asked for a delay because they needed more time to provide all the necessary material.

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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