Jerusalem District Court Judge Ya'acov Tsaban decided on Monday that the hearing of witnesses in the trial of Shas MK Shlomo Benizri and his religious mentor, Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, will take place in October, despite requests from the defendants to postpone the trial for a year.
Benizri was charged with using his position and influence as labor and welfare minister to supply inside information to Moshe Sela, a foreign labor contractor, in return for financial benefits worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The state also charged that Sela paid large sums of money to Elbaz because of his influence over Benizri.
Benizri and Elbaz were charged with conspiracy to commit a crime and of taking a bribe. Benizri was also charged with fraud and breach of faith and with obstructing justice, conspiracy to commit a crime and attempting to suborn a witness. Elbaz was also charged with obtaining a bribe while serving as an intermediary.
During Monday's session, Tsaban read out the indictments against the two defendants. Their lawyers, Avi Sagiv representing Benizri and Avigdor Feldman representing Elbaz, told Tsaban there was too much material to read and that they would not be able to prepare their cases in time for the fall.
Sagiv also complained about the cost of photocopying the evidence collected by the state prosecution. He told the court that the state insisted the material be photocopied at a cost of NIS 1 per page using the court's machine because it had an agreement with an outside contractor. Sagiv said he wanted to bring his own photocopy machine to the Jerusalem District Attorney's Office, which would lower the cost of photocopying to NIS 0.10 per page.
Sagiv raised the matter in the first hearing in the trial, which was held on April 23. During the second one on Monday, he said the matter had not been resolved and therefore he had not copied any material during the past month. Sagiv has petitioned the High Court of Justice against the prosecution's restriction.
As for delaying the testimony, Tsaban rejected the lawyers' requests. "I have informed the sides that the case will be heard soon after the end of the High Holidays, and that they must prepare themselves accordingly," he wrote in his decision. In the meantime, there will be a technical hearing on June 21.
Tsaban made it clear that the defendants must show up for all hearings unless they receive permission from the court. Benizri and Elbaz did not appear at the opening session last month.
Earlier, Feldman had asked the High Court of Justice to order Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to hold a hearing for Elbaz. He told the court that Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel had promised Feldman he would read additional material Feldman had sent him before deciding whether to indict Elbaz. However, before he had time to do so, Benizri failed to show up for a hearing that he had been granted. Abarbanel submitted the indictments against both men on the same day, allegedly forgetting about his promise to Feldman.
Abarbanel later retracted the indictment against Elbaz but filed it again on March 29, the day after the national election. Feldman said that the timing was not coincidental and that Abarbanel had not seriously studied the material he had sent him. He also said that an earlier hearing that Abarbanel had granted Elbaz had not been "serious."
The court did not rule on the petition, but Justice Ayala Procaccia said she could not see why Mazuz could not take an hour to hear Elbaz and Feldman. However, she made it clear to Feldman that he could only raise arguments based on the new material he had submitted, and not go back over the entire investigation.
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