Netanyahu to be Israel's first sitting PM on trial - case opens Sunday
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After years of probes, immunity battles, High Court decisions and a corona delay, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will go down in history on Sunday at 3 p.m. as the first sitting prime minister to go on trial for public corruption.
Just as the indictment against Netanyahu, represented by Amit Hadad and Micha Feitman, was a major cause of the 18-month election-deadlock, the trial will hover as a cloud over virtually all major government decisions for the foreseeable future.
On Saturday night, Netanyahu’s lawyers filed a complaint with the state prosecution against Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker.
They said that by interviewing witnesses for the prosecution and presenting a threatening narrative of the legal consequences against any of those witnesses who recant their accusations against Netanyahu, that Drucker is interfering with the legal proceedings and potentially impacting the judges.
The complaint, like more than 100 others against the media, is not expected to lead to a criminal probe due to concerns for freedom of the press, though Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has criticized leaks to the press from law enforcement.
Key to Sunday’s hearing is how quickly or slowly the judges decide to move the trial forward. The trial schedule could have a huge impact on Netanyahu’s transfer of power to Blue and White’s Benny Gantz in November 2022, as well as what Netanyahu’s status will be after that transfer.
The other defendants are Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris (represented by Jacques Chen), as well as Yediot Ahronot owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes (represented by Navit Negev).
Netanyahu himself must physically attend after a court order regarding the issue on Wednesday, despite his request for an exemption from attending until a more substantive hearing.
The main courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court will be presided over by Judges Rivka Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham, and is also expected to include Deputy State Attorney Liat Ben Ari and senior prosecutor Yonatan Tadmor, the four defendants, one defense lawyer for each defendant and security for Netanyahu.
Ben Ari has also been given extra security protection due to threats against her and the prosecution in general.
In two adjacent courtrooms, there will be additional defense lawyers for the defendants, media and other related professionals involved.
Netanyahu’s legal team has not formally announced whether Hadad or Feitman will take the lead at Sunday’s hearing, but the speculation is that it will be Feitman.
Hadad has been with Netanyahu since the start of the case back when the lead lawyer was Hadad’s then-boss, Jacob Weinroth, but many other lawyers have been on and off of the team since Weinroth passed away in 2018.
Feitman was added to the team relatively recently, but has more years of experience than the telegenic Hadad.
Mandelblit announced on November 21, 2019 that he would indict Netanyahu for bribery in Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair, for breach of public trust in Case 1000, the Illegal Gifts Affair and for breach of public trust in Case 2000, the Yediot Aharonot-Israel Hayom Affair.
Due to fights over potential immunity, the Netanyahu indictment was not filed until January 28, and due to the election and the coronavirus crisis, the trial’s start date was delayed by several months.
In Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of involvement in a media bribery scheme in which Walla owner Shaul Elovitch allegedly gave him positive coverage in exchange for Netanyahu making government policies favoring Elovitch’s Bezeq company to the tune of around NIS 1.8 billion.
This is the hardest case for Netanyahu since he faces accusations by two close former aides turned state witnesses, Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts from rich tycoons, mostly from Arnon Milchan, in exchange for help with business and personal-legal initiatives.
The charge itself is for acting in situations in which the prime minister had a conflict of interest, since no actual quid pro quo can be proven.
The absence of a quid pro quo makes this case much weaker than Case 4000, but it is still viewed by most legal scholars as having at least a 50/50 chance.
Regarding Case 2000, Netanyahu was accused of working with Yediot and Israel Hayom to reduce the latter’s competition with the former in exchange for positive coverage for Netanyahu.
The deal never went through, but the law has crimes of attempted bribery and breach of trust which can apply even if a deal does not go through.
Mandelblit was never a fan of Case 2000, but decided he needed to charge Netanyahu with something once they indicted Yediot owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes with bribery.
Sunday’s hearing will be mostly technical, with the lawyers fighting over whether the prosecution must transfer more documents to the defense, but the judges will also set a case schedule which will signal how fast the case will proceed.
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