Netanyahu Asks Court to Skip Opening of His Corruption Trial, Citing Coronavirus Restrictions

Prime minister says bodyguards' presence would violate coronavirus health restrictions in court request after State Prosecutor's Office expresses opposition

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Benjamin Netanyahu sits during the swearing in of the new government on May 17, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu sits during the swearing in of the new government on May 17, 2020.Credit: Adina Valman/Reuters
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu filed on Tuesday a request with the Jerusalem District Court for permission to be absent during the first session of his corruption trial, claiming that his and his bodyguards’ presence would violate Health Ministry coronavirus instructions.

Bibi swears in his colossal coalition and readies for a courtroom showdown

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Netanyahu also said his presence at a technical proceeding was unnecessary and would “cost the public a fortune.”

>> Netanyahu's trial: Everything you need to know

Charges against the prime minister will be formally laid out in the first session, scheduled for Sunday at the Jerusalem District Court. 

The prime minister filed the request a day after sending it to the State Prosecutor’s Office for an opinion. The State Prosecutor’s Office rejected the request, saying that a suspect's presence at their own hearing bears importance in showing equality of all suspects before the law.

Its statement also noted that the first session of a hearing is not a "technicality," but rather has great significance for the rest of the trial. Furthermore, it said, its decision was specifically about the first session and future requests would be considered. 

Netanyahu’s lawyers, Amit Hadad and Micha Fettman, said the response by the State Prosecutor’s Office was “clearly unfounded” and that under certain circumstances the law allows defendants to be absent for large portions of court proceedings. The attorneys said in a statement that what motivated the response was a desire to assist the media in “presenting the image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the dock as a continuation of the ‘Anyone but Bibi’ campaign.”

The State Prosecutor’s Office criticized the lawyers’ statement, calling it “unacceptable.” “We regret that the attorneys lent a hand to a reckless attack against their prosecutor colleagues, as well as the fraudulent attempt to attribute irrelevant motives to representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office.”

The trial was initially scheduled to open on March 17, but was delayed after former Justice Minister Amir Ohana froze the courts as part of the coronavirus emergency regulations.

Later that month, Minister Yariv Levin, also from Netanyahu’s Likud party, amended emergency orders so that only defendants in custody must show up to criminal proceedings via video conference.

After forming a government with Netanyahu, Benny Gantz's party will walk back on its main election promise and shelf three pieces of legislation meant to block Netanyahu from serving as prime minister. The first bill would have prevented a criminally indicted lawmaker from forming a government, the second would have barred a criminally indicted prime minister from serving on, and the third would cap any prime minister’s tenure at two terms.

In January, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit indicted Netanyahu for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in three cases.

The so-called Case 1000 involves lavish gifts that the prime minister allegedly received. Case 2000 alleges legislation in exchange for favorable news coverage from the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. Case 4000 involves allegations of beneficial regulatory treatment for the Bezeq telecommunications firm in exchange for favorable news coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news website.

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