Netanyahu Trial: Search of Key Witness' Phone Triggers Further Investigation

Defense counsel are expected to oppose the move to summon former news site editor, in the latest development in the ongoing Bezek-Walla corruption case against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Former Walla news site editor-in-chief Avi Alkalai in March.
Former Walla news site editor-in-chief Avi Alkalai in March. Credit: Moti Milrod
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The prosecution informed the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday that it has summoned former Walla news site chief editor Avi Alkalai for further interrogation in the Bezek-Walla corruption case against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after finding new correspondence containing coverage-related requests on key witness and former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua's phone.

The additional investigation is slated to take place in the next few days at the police national investigations unit Lahav 443 in Lod.

Dubbed Case 4000, the ongoing case relates to suspicions that Netanyahu, in his role as communications minister from 2014 to 2017 (while he was also prime minister), intervened with regulators to help the Bezeq group, which is controlled by Shaul Elovitch. In exchange, Elovitch, a long-time friend of Netanyahu’s, allegedly ordered Bezeq’s Walla news site to provide favorable coverage of the former prime minister and his wife Sara.

The prosecution claims that it found dozens of exchanges between Alkalai and Yeshua "that illustrate issues to which Alkalai referred to during his interrogation.” Defense counsel for Netanyahu, Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris are expected to oppose the move.

According to the prosecution's filing, further investigation is required because the prosecution is interested in presenting the new evidence – which in its opinion strengthens the indictment – in court, and such investigation would be “focused and brief, relating to only one witness, involving issues which he testified about and which will include exchanges from the existing investigate material and material located in completing the investigation.” The prosecution added that the supplementary investigation would not disrupt the legal proceedings against Netanyahu and the Elovitches because Alkalai is not expected to testify in the near future. Hearings in the former premier's corruption trial are expected to resume no earlier than September 13.

In June, the judges in this case ordered that Yeshua’s phone be examined again in an attempt to trace his connections with individuals covered by Walla's reporting. The order came after a number of text messages on Yeshua’s phone were mistakenly handed over to the defense, but had not appeared among the materials originally provided to the defense. The judges criticized the prosecution for not proffering all relevant material to the defense, and ordered it to do so. The bench, headed by Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman, approved the examination of any and all text messages in Yeshua’s phone containing references to political figures, spokesmen, businesspeople, public relations executives, media figures, law enforcement officials and others who were in contact with him over coverage on the site.

The prosecution claims that there is no impediment to presenting in court any new correspondence that was discovered on Yeshua's phone after the witnesses were interrogated. "In general, the correspondence that the accuser intends to present to the relevant witnesses is nothing other than an example or illustration of the conduct that the witnesses testified about in their interrogations in any case," the prosecution wrote to the court. In the case of Alkalai, however, it is claimed that the supplementary investigation is required by the large scope of the new materials found. Completion of an interrogation after the filing of an indictment does not require court approval.

Former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua at the Jerusalem District Court in June.

However, there have been some cases in which the prosecution informed the court that an investigation would be completed, but after the defense attorneys objected, the judges prevented the completion. For example, in 2018, the Tel Aviv District Court halted a follow-up investigation that the Tax and Economics Prosecutor's Office wanted to conduct during the trial of former Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni. In that case too, the prosecution announced that it would conduct a supplementary investigation with respect to new digital media materials found in the case.

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