Israeli prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari delivered a much-anticipated opening statement Monday at the beginning of the evidentiary stage in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial, saying that the prime minister made "illegitimate use" of his power to obtain favorable coverage.
Ben-Ari said that “The case before this honorable court today is a substantial and serious case involving government corruption."
"Defendant No. 1 is the prime minister of Israel, who according to the indictment, made improper use of the major government power placed in him to demand and obtain improper benefits from the owners of major Israeli media outlets to advance his personal interests, including a time during which he was facing the desire to be reelected.”
Ben-Ari also stated: “One cannot ignore the fact from back at the investigation stage and through the [pre-indictment] hearing and then at the pretrial request hearings, this concrete criminal proceeding has also resonated among the public as well as the media."
"But at this time, the obvious can already be stated – the indictment lists clear facts and accuses the defendants listed there and only them of committing criminal offenses. With the opening of the prosecution’s case in this file, it is not superfluous to make note of fundamental concepts: that the only place where the facts of the indictment must be proven is in the context of these legal proceedings and before this honorable court.”
Ben-Ari made reference to the allegations against the prime minister and said that all of them relate to “the intersection of the desire of business people to benefit from the massive government power in the hands of the prime minister and the prime minister’s desire to create an open door for himself to influence the State of Israel’s main media outlets.”
The court had ruled that Netanyahu must be present at the hearing during Ben-Ari's opening statement, but accepted the prime minister's request not to remain for the testimony of Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of the Walla News site and the key witness in Case 4000.
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In this case, prosecutors allege that as communications minister, Netanyahu made decisions that benefited the owner of the Bezeq telecommunications company in exchange for favorable coverage on the Bezeq-owned Walla.
The first group of witnesses also includes the state’s witnesses Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz. Filber, a former director general of the Communications Ministry, has testified that Netanyahu instructed him to treat Elovitch and Hefetz well. Hefetz, who was Netanyahu’s media adviser, has testified that he acted as an intermediary between the Netanyahu family and the directors of Bezeq and Walla.
The second group of witnesses is to testify in the so-called Case 1000 – the illicit gifts affair. Netanyahu is also accused of fraud and breach of trust in Case 2000, in which he is charged with attempting to receive better coverage in one of the country’s leading dailies, Yedioth Ahronoth, by striking a deal with the paper’s publisher, Arnon Mozes.
In the previous hearing in February, Netanyahu denied all charges against him and left the courtroom shortly thereafter.