Retired judge predicts Netanyahu graft trial will last at least 3 years

Evidence stage of trial against PM to begin Monday with 20-minute speech by prosecutor laying out charges of bribery, fraud, breach of trust

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives a hearing in his corruption case at the Jerusalem District Court, February 8, 2021. (Reuven Kastro/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives a hearing in his corruption case at the Jerusalem District Court, February 8, 2021. (Reuven Kastro/Pool)

The former head of the Jerusalem District Court, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial is being held, predicted Saturday the legal proceedings against Israel’s longest-serving leader would take at least three years to complete.

“It will be a minimum of three years. I simply did the arithmetic. There are 300 witnesses. From my experience, even if only 50 of the witnesses were important” it would take that long, retired judge Carmi Mosek told Channel 13 news.

Mosek added: “What’s more, this trial has begun unlike other trials: There is no effort to deal [efficiently] with the critical issues between the defense and the prosecution. Neither the defense nor the prosecution is prepared to dispense with a single one of their witnesses. In my opinion, they won’t reach any agreements on [non-central] issues [in dispute].”

He said it was too early to predict whether a plea bargain would be offered in the case.

Carmi Mosek (Courtesy)

His comments came ahead of the opening of the evidence stage of Netanyahu’s trial on Monday.

The Jerusalem District Court ruled Thursday that Netanyahu must attend the prosecution’s opening arguments on Monday. However, the judges exempted the premier from remaining in the courtroom during the testimony of the former editor of the Walla news site, Ilan Yeshua, a witness in the bribery case known as Case 4000.

Deputy State Attorney Liat Ben-Ari arrives at the District Court in Jerusalem, ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial on May 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to television reports Saturday, prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari will open the arguments with a twenty-minute speech laying out the criminal charges against the premier. The speech won’t be “dramatic or pompous,” but rather purely substantive, sources in the state prosecution told Channel 12.

Netanyahu will be permitted to leave after Ben-Ari’s speech, though legal analysts assessed that his failure to stay for Yeshua’s testimony — which is expected to include “dramatic” recordings that the prosecution believes implicates the prime minister in an alleged quid pro quo with Shaul Elovitch in Case 4000 — could hurt his case.

The judges had warned that Netanyahu’s absence cannot later be used as the basis for any future objections in the trial. The permission was given “assuming that the applicant understands the significance of his non-appearance, including the failure to raise further allegations arising from his absence,” the judges wrote last week.

Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the case, which involves suspicions that he granted regulatory favors benefiting  Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecoms, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his family from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site. The Elovitches also face bribery charges in the case.

Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua. (YouTube screenshot)

Yeshua was CEO of Walla at the time of the alleged crimes in Case 4000, but Netanyahu’s attorneys argued that since the two had no direct contact, the premier’s presence in the courtroom is unnecessary. Yeshua’s testimony, Netanyahu’s lawyers claim, is relevant only to the other defendants in the trial.

Netanyahu’s legal team had initially asked the court Wednesday to waive the requirement that he be present in the courtroom for the proceedings altogether, but that was opposed by state prosecutors.

“The prosecution believes that there is a real reason for the defendant’s presence in the opening speech, which is the opening status of the entire prosecution case, both in terms of the defendant hearing the proceedings directly, and in terms of the perception of justice,” state prosecutors said in a statement, noting that the decision was at the discretion of the court.

Starting this week, hearings in the evidentiary phase of Netanyahu’s trial are scheduled to be held three times a week, Monday through Wednesday, from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.

The intensive legal proceedings coincide with President Reuven Rivlin’s meetings Monday with representatives of all political parties to hear their recommendations for the next prime minister, following last week’s inconclusive election.

Netanyahu, who seeks to establish the next government and continue serving as prime minister after four rounds of voting in two years, was reportedly seeking to avoid fresh photos from the defendant’s bench as he tries to muster political support to head a coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, addresses supporters at the party campaign headquarters in Jerusalem, early on March 24, 2021. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

Netanyahu’s trial involves three separate cases: Case 1000, Case 2000, and Case 4000.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000. The former involves suspicions Netanyahu illicitly accepted some $200,000 in gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage in exchange for legislation weakening rival newspaper Israel Hayom. Mozes was charged with bribery in the case.

Netanyahu, who is the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office, denies any wrongdoing and has railed against the courts, prosecution and media for what he terms a “witch hunt.” He alleges the state prosecution, police, media and the opposition are framing him in an attempted political coup.

He has appeared in court twice so far.

In February, under heavy security and after several delays due to the coronavirus lockdown, Netanyahu made a brief, mandatory appearance at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing at which he formally pleaded not guilty to the three charges against him.

The premier’s lawyers have repeatedly moved to delay and discredit the proceedings, filing complaints against the prosecution, alleging “criminal tactics” had been used against them, calling for changing the indictment against the prime minister, and claiming that police investigators had used illegitimate means to secure evidence, thus rendering the charges moot. The court has rejected the call to cancel the indictments.

Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry was left without a justice minister as of Friday, with Netanyahu preventing a permanent appointment to the post.

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