The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday announced a further delay to the trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announcing it will restart on July 12 instead of next Monday as planned.
The decision to extend the current delay, which is meant to to allow defense attorneys time to review new evidence, came after the court partially accepted their argument that it would take longer to sift through some 350,000 messages and emails on the phone of former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua after a recent order of a search through the device.
Judges previously rejected the defense’s request to halt proceedings until September, instead granting an initial three-week delay, which has now been extended.
There will now only be seven hearings before the break for the High Holidays in September — five before the summer recess and two after it.
Prosecutors had hoped that the court would start to hear evidence from key witness Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu spokesman and confidant, before the summer recess; however, it is now unclear whether Yeshua’s testimony can be completed ahead of the break.
Yeshua is the first witness to give testimony in Netanyahu’s trial.
He is a top witness in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is alleged to have abused his powers, when he served as both premier and communications minister from 2014 to 2017, in order to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of Bezeq telecom company’s controlling shareholder Elovitch.
In exchange, Elovitch allegedly provided Netanyahu and his family with positive coverage on the Elovitch-owned Walla news website, including allowing the then-prime minister’s associates and family members to dictate editorial content and policy on a regular basis.
The expanded search of Yeshua’s phone will likely set back the overall trial schedule further as his cross-examination will require far more time to complete if new evidence is introduced. The cross-examination has already lasted almost a month and had been expected to take several more weeks even without the additional evidence.
The defense has been trying to show that contrary to what Yeshua has been saying in court, orders to give certain stories greater or less visibility were commonplace not only from Netanyahu but also from other politicians, businessmen and companies, and were sometimes unrelated to the Elovitches.
Netanyahu’s attorney Boaz Ben Tzur has argued that Walla articles said by prosecutors to have been published due to pressure from Netanyahu aides were in fact initiated by the website’s staff while other news outlets were posting similar stories.
In his testimony, Yeshua has described how Netanyahu’s son Yair and his wife, Sara, and aides to the then-premier would systematically interfere in the running of Walla.
Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the case, while Elovitch and his wife, Iris, have been charged with bribery. All three defendants deny wrongdoing.
Source: Michael Bachner and TOI Staff