The judges presiding over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial are pressuring the prosecution and the premier’s representatives to begin mediation on Case 1000, Channel 12 news reported Saturday.
The report follows others earlier this week according to which the judges informed prosecutors they believed there would be difficulty in proving a bribery charge in another case in the trial, Case 4000.
Case 1000 involves allegations that Netanyahu unlawfully received gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Arnon Milchan, an Israeli Hollywood film producer, and James Packer, an Australian business magnate.
The prosecution claims that between 2011 and 2016, Milchan gave Netanyahu luxury goods — including an estimated NIS 700,000 ($193,000) worth of cigars, champagne, and jewelry — in exchange for the alleged services.
It is also alleged that Netanyahu received from Milchan and Packer three bracelets for his wife Sara at her request, one of them worth $45,000, as well as luxury bags and clothing items for her. The Prime Minister’s defense has said that he was unaware his wife was receiving gifts from neither Milchan nor Packer.
Any mediation would occur behind closed doors and be presided over by an external judge in hopes of streamlining the legal process. The ultimate objective would be to reach a plea bargain agreement.
Beginning Sunday, Milchan is set to testify in the trial via video link from Brighton, England for two weeks. A day or two will be dedicated to the prosecution’s examination, while the rest of the time will be granted for cross-examination by Netanyahu’s defense attorney Amit Hadad.
Prosecutors are expected to use Milchan’s testimony to demonstrate that the scope of the gifts given to Netanyahu was particularly large, compared to gifts given to other public figures.
Netanyahu’s defense team is expected to focus on demonstrating the Netanyahu couple’s friendship with Milchan and make a case that the Hollywood mogul frequently lavished generous gifts on all his friends.
Sara Netanyahu will be present in the room with Milchan, while the premier is expected to sit at the Jerusalem District Court to watch at least the start of the testimony.
Netanyahu’s defense attorney told the court last month the premier wanted to exercise his right to be present, but could not clear the time to travel to the UK, asking for his wife to attend in his stead.
Netanyahu is on trial in two other corruption cases: Case 2000 and Case 4000. He faces charges of fraud and breach of trust 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.
According to a Channel 13 news report on Thursday, the judges also held a meeting this week with prosecutors and defense lawyers to discuss issues involved in substantiating the bribery charge in Case 4000, indicating that it would be difficult to prove to the court’s satisfaction.
Furthermore, the judges reportedly implored both parties to consider a plea bargain or mediation for “the sake of the country.”
Nevertheless, state prosecutors indicated Friday they will push ahead with attempting to convict the premier on a bribery charge, rejecting the judges’ advice.
Netanyahu’s representation – attorneys Boaz Ben Zur and Jack Chen – issued a statement Saturday assailing prosecutors for the position they deemed “hasty and outlandish” and urging them to consider the judges’ position.
Also known as the Bezeq-Walla affair, Case 4000 focuses on allegations that Netanyahu, during his previous tenure as prime minister, authorized regulatory decisions that financially benefited Bezeq telecommunications giant shareholder Shaul Elovitch by hundreds of millions of shekels. In return, Netanyahu allegedly received editorial influence over the Walla news site, also owned by Elovitch.
Unsourced media reports in the Hebrew press landscape played up the drama of the decision not to pursue a plea deal Friday, with one TV channel calling it an “earthquake.”