Gideon Sa'ar, minister-turned-rival, backs plea deal for PM

Reports: Judges in Netanyahu trial tell prosecution bribery charge has little chance

Walla and Channel 13 news also report justices encouraged sides to agree to a plea bargain or mediation ‘for the sake of the country’

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 17, 2022.(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 17, 2022.(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The judges presiding over the criminal trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have told prosecutors in the case that the bribery charge against the premier will be difficult to prove, Hebrew media outlets reported Thursday.

According to Walla and Channel 13, the judges convened with state prosecutors and Netanyahu’s defense team in their chambers in order to discuss the complexities involved in substantiating the bribery charge against the prime minister in Case 4000, the most significant of the three cases against Netanyahu that make up the trial.

Also known as the Bezeq-Walla case, it focuses on allegations that Netanyahu, during a 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 favorable media coverage from the Walla news site, also owned by Elovitch. Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the case.

Netanyahu is also on trial for two additional counts of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000, which concerns gifts he allegedly inappropriately received from billionaire benefactors, and Case 2000, in which he allegedly negotiated to obtain positive media coverage in a newspaper in exchange for curtailing its competitors.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in the cases against him and claims that the charges were fabricated in a witch hunt led by the police and state prosecution.

The bribery charge in Case 4000 was always the most serious facing the prime minister, and if the reports are true, it would mark a significant blow to the prosecution.

Notably, the judges’ comments came after the court finished hearing all the prosecution’s witnesses in that case.

Left to right: Netanyahu trial Judges Moshe Bar-Am, Rebecca Friedman-Feldman and Oded Shaham. (Justice Ministry)

The judges, who met with the lawyers for both sides on Tuesday according to Channel 13, were said to implore both parties to consider a plea bargain or mediation for “the sake of the country.”

Netanyahu’s political allies hailed Thursday’s reports, saying they backed up the premier’s longtime contention that there was “nothing” to the cases against him.

Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli decried the trial and its fallout as “seven years, five election campaigns, political chaos, endless hatred.”

“Indescribable shaming against a man who has dedicated his life to Israel’s rise,” Chikli said. “I’m proud to stand on the side of truth.”

Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan claimed that “the whole country was celebrating about corruption he was never involved in.”

“This trial is the lowest dark point Israel has ever known,” she said. “I want to thank Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not breaking.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname, said, “It’s like Bibi says: ‘There will be nothing because there is nothing.’”

Former justice minister Gideon Sa’ar, now in the opposition, urged the two sides to come to a plea deal, saying it was in the public interest to end the trial with a deal.

Netanyahu has said he is the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy and has called the allegations baseless.

In April, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara was reported to have decided not to seek a non-binding mediation process in the corruption trial, though the Justice Ministry dismissed the report as “speculation,” saying that no decision had been reached on the matter.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks during a conference at Haifa University, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

The trial began three years ago and, as things stand, the proceedings, including potential appeals, are seen as unlikely to end before 2028-2029.

Mediation is generally held before a serving judge (not one of the judges in the trial), who does not hear witnesses, and does not restart the trial, the report noted. Rather, the judge tries to work toward what amounts to a potential plea bargain.

Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit held plea bargain contacts with Netanyahu’s lawyers from late 2021 to early 2022. Mandelblit and Netanyahu’s lawyers engaged in several weeks of talks toward a potential plea deal, during a period when Netanyahu was not in office, but the talks fell through.

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