Israel's Netanyahu goes on trial for corruption

Cheryl Sanders
May 24, 2020

Netanyahu, 70, was indicted in November in cases involving gifts from millionaire friends and for allegedly seeking regulatory favours for media tycoons in return for favourable coverage.

Flanked by ministers and bodyguards, Netanyahu addressed reporters before entering the Jerusalem District Court where he was to face charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

Among the charges Netanyahu faces is that he sought to illegally trade favours in exchange for positive media coverage for himself in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's top-selling newspaper.

As the current Prime Minister, Mr Netanyahu is under no legal obligation to resign and has said his court battle will not affect his ability to do his job.

CASE 4000 alleges that Netanyahu granted regulatory favors worth around 1.8 billion shekels (about 500 million USA dollars) to Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq Telecom Israel.

In this case, Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Arnon Mozes, the owner of Yediot Ahronot, the largest tabloid in Israel, is alleged to have conspired with the prime minister to sway his newspaper's coverage in exchange for a law that would have quashed Israel Hayom, a free daily paper established by Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson meant to support Netanyahu.

Prosecutors said gifts included champagne and cigars and that Netanyahu helped Milchan with his business interests.

As the proceedings began, the lawyers and judges also wore masks, with the three-judge panel sitting behind a glass divider. He said police, prosecutors and the media were working together to "tailor" and "contaminate" the case.

The question of whether Netanyahu is fit for office has been a defining factor in all three of the inconclusive elections that took place in Israel over the last twelve months.

"It was actually complete editorial control of this site even on the specifics of which posts to make, or which pictures". This group later took to the courthouse and booed Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who filed the indictments against Netanyahu.

Many commentators considered this Netanyahu's political death warrant.

Through three national election campaigns since early a year ago, Netanyahu and his Likud party allies waged a blistering campaign attacking investigators and prosecutors, accusing them of bias, hubris and blind hatred of Israel's longest-serving leader.

However, in a stunning turnaround, Gantz, citing fears of a fourth expensive election and the coronavirus pandemic, agreed to shelve the legislation and instead form a power-sharing government with Netanyahu.

They argued that his attendance, to hear the formal reading of the charges against him and confirm that he has read and understood them, was merely technical.

His lawyers had asked that he be excused from the trial's mostly procedural opening day on the grounds that his security contingent would not be able to comply with social distancing requirements related to the coronavirus epidemic.

Yuval Shany, professor of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, argued that there is "a basic incompatibility" between Netanyahu's role as head of the government and his status as a criminal defendant.

How can the prime minister serve and stand trial at the same time?


In the latter role, Shany said, the premier will be "fighting very aggressively and maybe effectively to weaken the government authorities that are prosecuting him".

"There is a very serious conflict of interest situation", he told AFP news agency.

Such plea bargains are common in Israeli courts.

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