Court Postpones Next Hearing in Netanyahu's Corruption Trial, Citing Coronavirus Lockdown

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Netanyahu's trial may be postponed indefinitely due to the latest lockdown.
Netanyahu's trial may be postponed indefinitely due to the latest lockdown. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Jerusalem District Court announced Friday the next hearing in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, set for Wednesday, has been postponed indefinitely, citing coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

As part of the stricter lockdown measures, which went into effect on Friday and will last for at least 14 days, courts are partially closed, but judges can independently decide whether to hold hearings in cases they view as urgent. 

On Tuesday, the court denied Netanyahu’s lawyers their request to delay the prime minister's trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

The lawyers had argued that they needed more time to study the amended indictment, filed last week at their request.

The amendment details 230 instances in which Netanyahu or members of his family sought to improve coverage of them on the Walla news website while he served as communications minister.

According to the new indictment, Netanyahu was directly or indirectly involved in 155 of these instances, and was aware that his family members were frequently and systematically making additional demands to skew the website’s coverage. Furthermore, the indictment alleges that Netanyahu initiated 85 of the cases without any request by family members.

Gantz defends court's decision

Acting Justice Minister Benny Gantz defended the decision to let judges decide what proceedings will take place amid tightened coronavirus restrictions, saying that it proves the autonomy of the courts.

"Let me set the record straight – the courts are open and functioning. That's what I decided and that's what will be," Gantz tweeted. 

"Given the lockdown, court directors granted the requests of the judges, lawyers and members of the public to decide which hearings will be delayed. The judges of Netanyahu's case decided on their own to delay the hearing," he continued. 

Former Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, who resigned last week and left Gantz's party, accused him of allegedly reaching an agreement with Netanyahu "on the politicization of the appointment process for the attorney general and state prosecutor," according to a statement he posted on Facebook last week.

Last month, Gantz held talks with Likud to prevent the dissolution of the Knesset, and agreed to curb Nissenkorn’s powers in bid to stave off elections and cement the rotation agreement for the premiership with Netanyahu, but reneged on the understandings under pressure from his Kahol Lavan colleagues.

Attorney general submits new documents

The office of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit also said it had forwarded to the defense more documents on Friday, in order to prove that Mendelblit had followed due process in ordering an investigation into allegations of corruption. 

Netanyahu’s lawyers had claimed that the approvals had been granted to state prosecutors retroactively, and Jerusalem District Court judges agreed that the approvals should be handed over to the defense.

They dismissed on Wednesday a first batch of documents because they were not in the required format, and therefore did not qualify as proof that Mendelblit had approved the probe in advance. On Friday, the prosecution said the required documents had been handed over.

The prosecution stated that the court ruled that the state may omit or black out parts of these documents, insofar as it believes they constitute "internal records" or an internal hearing, which should then not be transferred. 

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