Netanyahu Must Attend Corruption Trial Hearing, District Court Says

After Netanyahu's attorneys ask to exempt him from compulsory presence at his trial, prosecution says he must appear at first session of evidence stage

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Benjamin Netanyahu looks on before the start of a hearing in his corruption trial at Jerusalem's District Court, two months ago.
Benjamin Netanyahu looks on before the start of a hearing in his corruption trial at Jerusalem's District Court, two months ago.Credit: Reuben Castro/Pool via REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must attend the opening session of the evidence phase of his corruption trial on Monday, a Jerusalem District Court judge said Thursday.

Earlier on Thursday, prosecutors from Israel's State Prosecutor's Office informed the Jerusalem District Court that they required Netanyahu's presence following appeals by the prime minister's attorneys to exempt him from compulsory presence at his trial hearings.

With regard to his presence at future sessions, prosecutors said they would leave that up to the discretion of the court.

Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases.

Prosecutors said Netanyahu's presence was warranted "both in terms of the accused directly hearing what is said, and for the sake of showing justice is being done."

Netanyahu last appeared in court in early February, when he pleaded not guilty to the corruption charges.

Testimony is set to start with the so-called Case 4000, in which prosecutors allege that as communications minister, Netanyahu made decisions that benefited the owner of the Bezeq telecommunications company in exchange for favorable coverage on Bezeq's Walla News site. The first witness to be called will be the former CEO of Walla, Ilan Yeshua.

Liat Ben-Ari, who heads up the prosecution team, recently said she may also seek to move up testimony by witnesses in the so-called Case 1000, which centers on claims that gifts given to Netanyahu and his family by Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan were repaid with political favors. As Haaretz has previously reported, prosecutors fear the prospect of the prime minister influencing Milchan, who is the main witness in the case. Milchan has said that attorney Boaz Ben Zur – a former attorney of his who is representing Netanyahu in his trial – has suggested he speak with the prime minister, who has also acknowledged having spoken with Milchan following his indictment.

In February, Haaretz reported that Netanyahu's attorneys intend to call Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit as a defense witness. It is anticipated that Netanyahu's attorneys, Amit Hadad and Ben Zur, will seek to question Mendelblit about his approval for opening the investigation against the prime minister. A panel of three judges had determined a day earlier that his handling of the issue had been flawed. Hadad and Ben-Zur denied that report.

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