Can PM get 2nd court to show evidence undermining key state’s witnesses?

Main court issues split-the-difference ruling on evidence in dispute

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press statement ahead of the start of his trial at the District Court in Jerusalem in May. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press statement ahead of the start of his trial at the District Court in Jerusalem in May.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Lawyers for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday told Jerusalem District Court Judge Aryeh Romanov he should force the prosecution to hand over evidence that could undermine key state’s witnesses in Netanyahu’s public corruption trial.
At a hearing on November 15, Netanyahu lawyers Boaz Ben Tzur and Amit Hadad had told the main trial panel led by Judge Rivkah Friedman-Feldman that state’s witnesses in 2018 had accused law enforcement of playing games with evidence to try to nail the prime minister with corruption charges.
Subsequently, Friedman-Feldman ruled that certain disputes over some of this sensitive evidence, which could have a major impact on the outcome of the trial, would be heard separately by Judge Romanov.
The purpose was to avoid the main trial judges hearing evidence that might prejudice them against Netanyahu.
After Tuesday’s hearing, the trial will return to the main panel this coming Sunday, which also includes judges Oded Shaham and Moshe Bar’am.
In fact, the main panel led by Friedman-Feldman also issued a split-the-difference series of rulings Tuesday night regarding many aspects of evidence. Some items sought by the defense related to key witnesses were granted over the prosecution’s objection, while other items were denied.
On Tuesday, Hadad complained to Romanov: “We have nothing to explain why he [Ari Harow] would be a state’s witness. Ari Harow gave them nothing.”
Hadad’s point was that the prosecution must explain how they learned that Harow, a former chief of staff to Netanyahu who turned state’s witness, had recordings on his cellphone of the prime minister and Yediot Aharonot owner Arnon “Nuni” Mozes discussing a potential media bribery affair.
Those recordings turned out to be the heart of Case 2000, the Yediot Aharonot-Israel Hayom Affair, against Netanyahu.
In particular, Hadad highlighted a series of internal police memoranda that he said might reveal the background to the recordings, but which the prosecution wants to keep under wraps.
The memoranda were drafted by investigators, including Tzahi Hebkin and Avi Rotenberg, and not by police intelligence officials, Hadad said, meaning that they had no basis to claim the memoranda as privileged.
He drew attention to potential inconsistencies in aspects of the prosecution’s timeline for obtaining the recordings. Either the police accessed the recordings before they had a warrant, or a secret third party told them about the recordings, and this third party must be disclosed and questioned by the defense, Hadad said.
Prosecutor Karin Tzaviran rejected these arguments, saying the memoranda were not related to the investigation or to any negotiations with Harow about becoming a state’s witness, making them irrelevant to the defense.
Ben Tzur, Netanyahu’s lawyer, requested that the court compel the prosecution to disclose police internal memoranda relating to any deals made with Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua.
Yeshua is a key witness for the prosecution in Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair, regarding media bribery. But he was never deemed to be a suspect or made to sign a state’s witness deal.
Even past comments by prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh made it clear that Yeshua had violated the law, Ben Tzur said, but a strategic decision seems to have been made not to define him as a suspect as part of an unofficial deal for him to record other suspects in the case.
Memoranda related to this process must be disclosed as they could expose Yeshua as a witness who is not credible, similar to doubts that can be raised about a state’s witness who agrees to turn on his boss in exchange for immunity, he said.
In response, the prosecution said memoranda the defense wants must be kept under seal because they would reveal the names of police intelligence officials as well as those officials’ classified sources and methods.
How the court decides the above issues will impact whether the defense can try to disqualify the Harow recordings and eviscerate Yeshua’s credibility.
The sides also fought over evidence related to allegations that Nir Hefetz, a former top aide of Netanyahu who turned state’s witness, was abused, extorted and given various benefits to make up lies against the prime minister.
Further, the defense tried to get documents relating to Shlomo Filber, also a former top aide of Netanyahu who turned state’s witness, and various eavesdropping issues when the police monitored his cellphone calls.
It was unclear how quickly Romanov would rule on the issues in dispute, though presumably it would need to be before January 4, when Netanyahu must file his final written answer to the indictment.
Witnesses are expected to be called starting in February.