ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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Some Netanyahu trial hearings nixed as defense says PM doesn’t have time due to war

Court accedes to request for fewer hearings due to premier’s lack of availability to prepare for testimony of new key witnesses in light of ongoing war against Hamas

A hearing in the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, December 5, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
A hearing in the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, December 5, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Weekly hearings in the corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will go down to two per week instead of the current three after the court acceded Tuesday to a request by the premier’s lawyer who cited the defendant’s lack of availability to prepare for the testimonies of new key witnesses in light of the ongoing war against Hamas.

As a result, a hearing scheduled for Wednesday has been canceled.

Attorneys for fellow Case 4000 defendant Shaul Elovitch also requested Monday that hearings be held in that case only two days per week, down from three, to accommodate for legal staff called up for reserve duty amid the war.

In response, the Jerusalem District Court suggested reducing the Case 4000 hearings to two per week alongside holding one weekly hearing on Cases 1000 and 2000– also Netanyahu graft cases — in which testimonies are currently due to start being heard next month.

But Netanyahu’s attorney Amit Hadad wrote that he objects to this since it would mean questioning new key witnesses, and the prime minister doesn’t have time to prepare for this.

“A significant portion” of witnesses set to be heard in those cases “are primary witnesses, whose testimony requires preparation in coordination, and together, with the prime minister,” Hadad wrote.

“In the current situation, in the middle of the… war, there is no possibility of having the necessary contact with the prime minister to prepare for the questioning of the expected witnesses,” he added in his request, which was eventually accepted.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the District Court in Jerusalem as he arrives to listen to the testimony of businessman Arnon Milchan, on June 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The trial was suspended along with all other non-urgent cases two months ago due to Hamas’s bloody October 7 incursion, when some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages.

Following the expiration on Thursday of the emergency footing that Justice Minister Yariv Levin put in place for the courts when the war with Hamas began, Levin gave instructions for most courts to resume normal operations Friday.

The trial resumed on Monday with state prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh saying that the prosecution in Case 4000, which involves allegations that Netanyahu handed the Shaul Elovitch-owned Bezeq telecom giant regulatory benefits in exchange for editorial intervention in the Walla news outlet, also owned by Walla, will be finished presenting its case by January. Netanyahu is charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in the case.

Tirosh added that it would likely take another month or two after January to wrap up the prosecution in Case 1000, which concerns gifts the prime minister allegedly inappropriately received from billionaire benefactors, and Case 2000, in which he allegedly negotiated to obtain positive media coverage in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in exchange for curtailing its competitors.

Netanyahu is accused of fraud and breach of trust in those two cases.

Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh at hearing in the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem District Court, December 4, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

He refused to step down when the indictments were filed, arguing that he is capable of standing trial while also leading the country.

The trial has faced criticism over the slow pace of proceedings.

It began three years ago and, as things stand, the proceedings, including potential appeals, have been seen as unlikely to end before 2028-2029. In late June, it was reported that the judges consider the bribery charge against the premier difficult to prove, and that they convened with state prosecutors and Netanyahu’s defense team to discuss the possibility of a plea bargain.

In October 2019, his lawyers said they had received an expert legal opinion that concluded he had a right to accept gifts from close friends.

Jeremy Sharon and Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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