The judges in the Jerusalem District Court trial of Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday voiced sharp criticism of the prosecution’s request to amend the indictment. The amendment regards the timing of the “directive meeting” in which, according to state witness Shlomo Filber, Netanyahu as prime minister ordered him to tilt policy in Bezeq’s favor.
According to the original indictment, Filber and Netanyahu met “very shortly after the approval of Filber’s appointment as Communications Ministry director general.” Against this, Netanyahu’s attorney, Boaz Ben Zur, presented evidence indicating that the meeting wasn’t held on the dates that Filber cited.
Now the prosecution is seeking to amend the indictment to say that the two met at an “unknown date, after the accused Netanyahu decided on Filber’s appointment.”
The timing of the meeting is important in that afterward, Filber alleged he met with Bezeq controlling stakeholder Shaul Elovitch and Eli Kamir, a company consultant. At that meeting, he recalled, he told the two that he would advance their interests on Netanyahu’s orders.
The defense claims that he met with Netanyahu after that meeting, a claim that challenges the prosecution’s thesis regarding the timeline of influence on Filber. The witness himself insisted that he met with Netanyahu before meeting with Elovitch and Kamir.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the prosecutor in the case, Yehudit Tirosh said: “We’re not changing positions. The center of the matter isn’t in the date. If the court won’t be convinced that there was an order before the appointment of the witness, it wouldn’t be proper to tie its hands only because that’s how we worded the indictment.”
She added: “We examined the crux of the order, and our opinion remains that there was such an order. From the onset, the witness never remembered a specific date. The remembrance was done by reaching conclusions based on external events. He was sure it was after the appointment.” She said the prosecution still believes that the meeting probably happened June 10, 2015, in line with the original indictment.
Still, she admitted she should have given more weight to correspondence casting doubt on the meeting’s date. Tirosh asserted that the amended indictment wouldn’t unfairly hurt the defense, which argues the order was never given.
The judges were tough on Tirosh regarding the amendment’s significance. The head of the panel, Rivka Friedman-Feldman, told her: “It’s true that the defense’s line is that there was no meeting giving an order. The defense’s way to show this is that practically it could not have happened on the alleged dates. What do you mean this won’t hurt the defense? The defense built the evidence according to the indictment, and you’re saying, ‘Okay, let’s set this aside’?”
Tirosh responded, “I’m saying we need to check a certain factual change.”
Judge Moshe Bar-Am commented, “This is a head-on factual change.”
Friedman-Feldman said that “evidence is one thing, and maybes are another. You want to amend that the meeting was before the appointment, after the defense showed this wasn’t possible,” she said. “If there is no evidence, then we have the evidence that there is today.”
Ben Zur asked the court to reject the request. “You can’t treat the facts of the indictment like clay when we successfully attack it,” he said. “The very change in motion substantially hurts our ability to present a defense.”