Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's legal team asked the court on Wednesday that a hearing on the amended indictment in his corruption trial be postponed, indicating he may once more turn to lawmakers to grant him immunity from prosecution.
In November, Netanyahu’s office denied a Haaretz report that the premier planned to submit a second request for immunity from prosecution, after having had withdrawn his first request last January, to mitigate damage to Likud's election campaign, among other reasons. At the time, Netanyahu said "The Publication is incorrect and baseless."
Citing Israel's coronavirus lockdown, the premier's lawyers told the Jerusalem District Court they need more time to study the amended indictment in his trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust – filed last week at their request – and its implications, including with respect to the possibility of being granted immunity.
“For the record, it should be noted that the legal significance of the amended indictment is being reviewed in relation to the immunity law for lawmakers, their rights and obligations, and Netanyahu reserves his rights on the matter,” Netanyahu's lawyers said.
In asking that the court adjourn the hearing scheduled for January 13, which Netanyahu is required to attend, the premier's lawyers asked that instead a hearing be held on their motion to dismiss the indictment in Netanyahu's absence. If their request is granted, the evidentiary phase of the trial will also be postponed by one month.
The premier's lawyers cited the national coronavirus lockdown as a justification for their request, saying that the lockdown has made it more difficult for them to carry out their work and that some of them have been required to enter quarantine. They also pointed to the asymmetry of the prosecution having had 20 days to prepare the amended indictment, as compared to their having only received one week to review it before the slated hearing.
Last week the Jerusalem District Court had accepted the arguments of the prime minister’s lawyers and instructed the prosecution to revise the indictment.
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Lawyers for the other defendants in the cases involving Netanyahu, Shaul Elovitch and Arnon Mozes, have similarly requested that upcoming hearings be postponed to provide more time for reviewing the amended indictments. Lawyers for Elovitch, formerly the controlling shareholder of the telecommunications company that owned the Walla news site, asserted that they needed more time on account of an appendix in the amended indictment which sets forth alleged requests made by the Netanyahu family to skew coverage.
In their request on Wednesday, Netanyahu’s attorneys referenced the court's characterization of the appendix as including “essential and relevant details for the defense of the accused,” and accordingly claimed that they would need to address the appendix in their response to the amended indictment.
Knesset members are immune from prosecution under certain circumstances, but the seriousness of the charges against Netanyahu suggests the prime minister may not be eligible for immunity. According to Israeli law, the Knesset House Committee is to discuss his request and should it be approved, the request will need to pass a vote by the full Knesset.
Although Israeli case law require cabinet members to relinquish their post following an indictment, which led Netanyahu to relinquish his four ministerial posts, Israeli law does not similarly require Knesset members or even the prime minister to do so. Last year, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the law does not bar an indicted prime minister from form a government, which led Yesh Atid to bring an opposition bill seeking to prevent an indicted candidate from forming a government, most recently in August of last year, but the bill did not pass.