Court rules for Netanyahu trial to continue despite Pegasus scandal

The court initially ruled in favor of the prosecution in regard to the NSO scandal, and the Netanyahu trial will continue Monday.

 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 Jerusalem District Court on Sunday ruled initially in favor of the prosecution that the trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu should go forward despite the Pegasus cellphone-hacking police scandal.

Cable Authority legal adviser Dana Neufeld’s testimony as part of the Case 4000 Bezeq-Walla Affair will go forward on Monday after nearly a month-long pause.

At the same time, the court did not dismiss Netanyahu’s legal arguments that evidence hacked from Shlomo Filber, his former top aide turned state’s witness, should be disqualified or given less weight in the trial verdict since portions of it were obtained illegally.

Essentially, the court said it had not seen sufficient evidence of overwhelming illegality or impact on the trial sufficient to pause hearing witnesses any longer for the purposes of an even more extended time period of legal arguments about the legality of the police hacking Filber’s cellphone.

The court said the prosecution had obtained a court order to have access to Filber’s cellphone.

 Shlomo Filber, former director general of the Communications Ministry at a conference of the Israeli newspaper ''Makor Rishon'' at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, February 21, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Shlomo Filber, former director general of the Communications Ministry at a conference of the Israeli newspaper ''Makor Rishon'' at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, February 21, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

It also said the prosecution had received Filber’s consent to access to his cellphone at a later date as part of his becoming a state’s witness in a plea deal.

Though the court acknowledged that the police had hacked Filber’s cellphone on February 15, 2018, during a period of time beyond the court order and before he became a state’s witness, the judges’ position is that this issue should be argued more fully at the end of the trial.

This means the defense will get another shot at disqualifying Filber’s testimony and evidence at the end of the trial. But it also shows that the judges have been mostly convinced by classified evidence presented to them by the prosecution that any illegality associated with the cellphone hacking was narrow and not a huge issue.

After Neufeld finishes her testimony, Filber, one of the case’s star witnesses, is expected to testify, possibly as early as next week.

The trial’s opening statements took place in May 2020, and witnesses began to give testimony last April. It paused for a few months last summer for the summer recess and due to disputes about evidence from former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua’s cellphone.

However, the trial was moving forward at a much faster pace between last September and last month until the Pegasus scandal broke.

Depending on other delays, the prosecution could finish presenting evidence for Case 4000 in the coming months and then potentially proceed to Case 1000, the Illegal Gifts Affair; and Case 2000, the Yediot Aharonot-Israel Hayom Affair.

There has also been speculation that Netanyahu may seek a plea deal in the coming months, especially after Filber testifies and fills in many of the allegations that pertain directly to the former prime minister in the regulatory side of Case 4000.