Prosecution delays Netanyahu trial to clarify police spyware issues

On Monday, the Jerusalem District Court ordered the prosecution to provide an update on the police cell phone hacking allegations no later than 2:00 p.m. Tuesday.

 BENJAMIN NETANYAHU seen at Jerusalem District Court during his trial. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU seen at Jerusalem District Court during his trial.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)

The prosecution  requested postponing further witnesses in the trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday until Sunday of next week so it can take more time to probe and clarify the latest police spyware scandal issues.

On Monday, the Jerusalem District Court ordered the prosecution to provide an update on the police cell phone hacking allegations no later than 2:00 p.m. Tuesday.

The decision to seek a delay when the prosecution has been on general notice of the issue for weeks and has faced a deadline since Thursday last week, and the fact that the prosecution was unclear on what it would do down to almost minutes before the deadline, showed how far on its back legs the prosecution appears to feel at this point.

It is unclear if the prosecution's update on Sunday will lead to the trial restarting or if there will be an unspecified much longer delay fighting over whatever update the prosecution provides.

On Monday, the testimony of cable authority legal adviser and witness Dana Neufeld finished an hour early when the court ordered the prosecution to provide an update on the police spying scandal by 2:00 p.m. Tuesday in place of an evening deadline.

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering the district court room where he is facing a trial for alleged corruption crimes, in Jerusalem May 24 2020.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/REUTERS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering the district court room where he is facing a trial for alleged corruption crimes, in Jerusalem May 24 2020. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/REUTERS)

Neufeld’s testimony was halted when the prosecution started to ask about text messages between her and former top Netanyahu aide turned state’s witness Shlomo Filber.

After losing two rounds of earlier arguments to halt hearing witnesses pending clarifications regarding the police cell phone hacking scandal, the defense finally convinced the judges that it would be unfair to let Neufeld refer to Filber’s texts, given that Filber’s texts may be at the center of the hacking saga.

All of this came after Shaul Elovitch lawyer Jacques Chen had told the court earlier, "An enormous plague has broken out" with the police spying on different people swept up in the Netanyahu case.

Chen demanded that the court stop the calling of witnesses until the situation is clarified and that it reconsider its decision from Friday to continue the case and to only resolve the police spying issues later in the week.

"There cannot be a trial of justice like this. We cannot learn the truth," he said.

In addition, Chen said, "We are not actors and extras in a show."

Judge Rivkah Friedman Feldman tried to dismiss Chen's remarks initially, asking him to wait until after the Neufeld was called to testify on Tuesday.

"You are talking about what someone reported in the media. The prosecution is doing a review," Feldman said dismissively, implying the court would not get into the police spying issue until after Neufeld testified.

Chen pushed back saying, "I am not even merely talking about the rights of the defendants - what about the public's faith? How can this train continue to run?"

Further, Chen said, "the government cannot just say 'next witness'" as if there is not an earthquake around the spying scandal situation.

Lead prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh said she still has no substantive report on the police spying issue but is committed to giving an update specifically on the Netanyahu case by Tuesday as ordered by the court.

Tirosh said that the review regarding the impact of the police spying in the Netanyahu trial is being expedited separately from the wider check of the entire police force in a wider range of cases in the past several years.

As the hearing continued, Friedman Feldman changed her tone and started to press Tirosh about whether the prosecution will present a full picture on Tuesday.

Tirosh said the prosecution was even checking beyond Cases 1000, 2000 and 4,000, but Netanyahu's lawyer Amit Hadad said the prosecution was avoiding to look into police spying in the "old Case 1000" - aspects of Case 1000 the Illegal Gifts Affair that was closed and not included in the final indictment.

Hadad said we cannot believe the police who said, "there was nothing, there was nothing, there was nothing," and that the court needed to halt the trial until an outside check has been done on the police spying.

Further, Hadad said that NSO has a way to look backward at what police spied on even if the police erased it.

Friedman Feldman said, "If there is information, we need to check it" and see who did what and when, adding: "This is all early. This is too early," for the defense lawyers to make broad claims against the prosecution.

However, she then called a recess for the judges to discuss in their chambers.

Around 10:30 a.m., the court rejected the defense arguments and allowed Neufeld to testify for several hours until running into the Filber cell phone issue.

Neufeld is an important witness for the prosecution since she was one of the few non-political officials who signed off on the YES-Bezeq merger which is at the center of the Case 4000 media bribery charge against Netanyahu and Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch.