Panel of 3 judges selected for Netanyahu’s corruption trials

Panel of 3 judges selected for Netanyahu’s corruption trials

Jerusalem District Court says Rivka Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham will try the prime minister; one of the trio sent former PM Olmert to jail

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a Likud party event in Lod, on February 11, 2020. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a Likud party event in Lod, on February 11, 2020. (Flash90)

Jerusalem District Court president Aharon Farkash on Wednesday announced the three judges who will hear Prime Minister Benjamin’s corruption trials, in which he will face charges of fraud, corruption, and bribery.

The panel will consist of leader Rivka Friedman-Feldman along with justices Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham.

All three have served on the Jerusalem District Court since 2012.

Friedman-Feldman was previously involved in the trial of former prime minister Ehud Olmert when she was a member of a similar three-judge panel that in 2014 overturned his acquittal in a bribery case and sentenced him to eight months in prison.

Jerusalem District Court Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman. (Israeli Judicial Authority)

Olmert was sentenced to a total of 27 months for convictions in three corruption trials, of which he eventually served 16 months until his release in 2017. Olmert had resigned as prime minister before the trials started.

Shaham, 56, was one of a panel of judges who in 2010 cleared MK Tzachi Hanegbi of corruption charges when he was serving as environmental protection minister. He was found guilty of perjury and fined NIS 10,000 ($2,920). Hanegbi, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, is currently agriculture minister and also minister for regional development.

In 2018, Bar-Am and Friedman-Feldman were on a panel of judges who cleared a man of murder charges and released him from prison after he had already served 4.5 years behind bars. The judges found there were problems with the manner in which police obtained confessions from the man as well as in the testimonies of witnesses in the case.

Jerusalem District Court Judge Oded
Shaham. (Israeli Judicial Authority)

On January 28, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit filed indictments against Netanyahu with the Jerusalem District Court. It marked the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister will face criminal charges.

According to the text of the indictments released by the Justice Ministry in November, Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000.

The filing of charges came hours after Netanyahu announced that he was withdrawing his request for parliamentary immunity from the pending indictment in the corruption cases against him.

The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in all three cases, and has alleged that the investigations against him are a “witch hunt” involving the left, the media and the police relentlessly pressuring a “weak” attorney general.

Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe
Bar-Am. (Israeli Judicial Authority)

In Case 1000, involving accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors, Mandelblit charged Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust — the latter being a somewhat murkily defined offense relating to an official violating the trust the public has placed in him.

In Case 2000, involving accusations Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken the circulation of a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth, Mandelblit charged the premier with fraud and breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery.

In Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, Netanyahu stands accused of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, in exchange for positive coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site. In that case Mandelblit is charging Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribery.

The Jerusalem District Court seen on January 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Last week the Permits Committee at the State Comptroller’s Office said it will once again consider allowing Netanyahu to receive outside funding for his legal expenses in the graft cases.

Notably, the committee now consists of entirely different officials from those who rejected the premier’s former requests.

In its former makeup the committee thrice rejected Netanyahu’s request to accept donations from wealthy benefactors for his legal expenses and instructed him to return funds he had already received.

A date has not yet been set for Netanyahu’s trial, although it is expected to begin after the coming March 2 elections.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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