Third Benjamin Netanyahu trial hearing today

The trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for alleged public corruptions continues.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu at his trial. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu at his trial.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Jerusalem District Court will hold its third hearing today as part of the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for alleged public corruption. The three judges hearing the case are: Rivkah Friedman-Feldman, Oded Shaham and Moshe Bar’am.
At stake are a number of major issues relating to the case’s critical state’s witnesses, some of which the sides have been battling over since May and could shape the course of the trial, with witnesses due to be called in January.
They will also take up the mid-September defense claim that the police had probed Netanyahu in Case 2000 before they were given legal authorization to do so by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit.
The prime minister’s lawyers, Boaz Ben Tzur and Amit Hadad, hope that this line of attack and others could lead to disqualifying large portions of the case against their client.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of involvement in an attempted media bribery scheme which never panned out.
According to the indictment, Netanyahu took several actions as prime minister to reduce the competitiveness of the Yisrael Hayom newspaper for the benefit of its competitor Yediot Ahronot, in return for a promise by Yediot owner Arnon “Nuni” Mozes to systematically shift coverage of him from being negative to positive.
Netanyahu’s lawyers have claimed that the police started to probe Netanyahu in relation to the case in March 2016, even though an official written approval from Mandelblit came only on July 10, 2016.
This could be important because Israeli law specifically restrains the police from probing the prime minister unless authorized to do so by the attorney-general.
In some circumstances, if the police gather evidence without legal authority, the evidence – and sometimes the entire case – could be disqualified.
The Justice Ministry has responded that even though July 2016 was when Mandelblit issued a written approval, he had given verbal approval as early as March 2016, which could alleviate the issue.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that Netanyahu’s lawyers will attack that position by raising other grounds for tossing out Case 2000.
They will argue that the reason a prime minister cannot be probed without the attorney-general signing off is because it is an incredibly significant issue.
Accordingly, they will say that verbal permission should be inadequate. Such a significant decision must be in writing so that it can be evaluated later by defense lawyers and the courts to determine if it was validly given and to understand how far the police could go in the probe and whether they exceeded their authority.
Also in Case 2000, Netanyahu’s lawyers said that the police seizure and inspection of the cellphone of former Netanyahu aide Ari Harow, now a state’s witness, was unauthorized.
They argued that the police only had the right to inspect Harow’s cell phone regarding an unrelated case specific to Harow himself.
Subsequently, when they accidentally found the recordings of Netanyahu talking to Mozes on Harow’s cell phone, the lawyers said that the police requested a warrant from a court.
However, the lawyers argued that seeking a warrant after-the-fact was improper procedure. According to the lawyers, the prosecution has not produced any kind of document explaining the process by which the police accessed the Netanyahu-related evidence on Harow’s cell phone.
THEY DEMANDED that the prosecution produce an explanation which the lawyers can then use as a basis to try to block the recordings from being used at trial.
The prosecution has responded that new information eventually came out which served as the basis for the warrant to search’s Harow’s cellphone.
But the Post has learned that the defense is especially suspicious that the timing of when the new information came to the police’s attention does not seem to match up with when a deal was cut with Harow.
Presuming that Harow gave a tip-off to the police or confirmed the authenticity of the recordings, the defense lawyers will say that this would only make sense if he received something in return. The defense lawyers believe the police acted improperly and the documents surrounding the incident will help them prove this.
Regarding former Netanyahu aide and state’s witness Nir Hefetz, they say that key aspects of an exchange at the police station between him and a woman (not his wife) with whom he had a romantic connection were improperly omitted. The lawyers seek to attack the police for making the exchange happen and for not documenting all aspects of it.
The Post has also learned that the woman has sued the state for damage to her reputation and that Netanyahu’s lawyers want a copy of the lawsuit, but say they are being blocked by the state.
Further, the prime minister’s lawyers want the woman’s statements to police which prosecutors have said are irrelevant and would impinge on her privacy.
It is possible that the evidence may be presented by the state to the court while not in the presence of the defense lawyers for the court to decide this issue.
The defense lawyers are also seeking medical documents relating to allegations that Hefetz was mistreated and sick while being questioned.
They hope to use these documents to undermine the credibility of his turning state’s witness, but the prosecution is claiming medical documents are a private matter.
Netanyahu’s lawyers also want to know if there were prosecution officials who opposed using this third-party female to “brutally” pressure Hefetz and what they had argued so that this could be presented before the court.
Essentially, former senior official of the Police Investigations Department Dubi Shertzer has claimed that he complained to his superiors in PID about police investigators alleged abusive treatment of Hefetz.
The prosecution has responded that it is possible that such a complaint was raised verbally by Shertzer to deputy PID head Moshe Saada back in early 2018, but that either Saada decided the issue did not warrant further follow-up so he did not make a record of it, or that possibly Shertzer is making up the conversation.
Both Shertzer and Saada are currently in personal conflicts with law enforcement over promotions and related issues.
Moreover, the lawyers demanded information explaining the basis for the prosecution decision not to charge former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua.
Yeshua was never a suspect, but was instrumental in the alleged media bribery scheme to improve coverage for Netanyahu as well as in providing evidence to the police regarding the scheme.
The implication was that Yeshua had scored a sort of “soft” state witness deal whereby cooperating strongly with the police to help get Netanyahu; they left him off the list of suspects.
The Post has learned that the lawyers believe that any unofficial understandings reached with Yeshua must be disclosed to them even though he did not become a state’s witness.
Finally, Netanyahu’s lawyers in September had asked the prosecution to produce a critical legal opinion by the Communications Ministry which declared the prime minister’s actions in Case 4000 to be legal.
Further, it appears that the prosecution eventually did turn this legal opinion over and that the defense believes it could have a substantial impact on how the court rules regarding Case 4000.