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Netanyahu’s corruption trial set to resume Sunday, as protests mount

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial will resume on Sunday, with prosecutors reportedly seeking to haul in witnesses in the coming months and expedite the legal proceedings.

Netanyahu’s trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes opened in May in a Jerusalem court. Though the prime minister attended the first hearing, he is not expected to make an appearance in the courtroom on Sunday.

The second hearing in the criminal case comes on the heels of multiple protests against Netanyahu and his corruption charges.

The accusations against Netanyahu include accepting some $200,000 in gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires, Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer. Netanyahu is also accused of offering to push legislation benefiting powerful Israeli media moguls in exchange for more positive coverage in their publications. He denies any wrongdoing.

Sunday’s hearing will see the court pencil in dates for future hearings during which witness testimony will be given.

According to Channel 13, the State Prosecutor’s Office will request that the Jerusalem District Court call witnesses to testify in Netanyahu’s corruption trial in the coming three to four months.

Channel 13 said Netanyahu’s attorneys will push back against the prosecution’s request, arguing that as a result of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to bar the premier from receiving millions in outside funding for his legal expenses, they need more time to prepare for the trial.

The makeup of Netanyahu’s legal team has been hampered by the Permits Committee at the State Comptroller’s Office repeatedly rejecting the prime minister’s requests, most recently earlier this month, for permission to accept donations from wealthy benefactors for his legal expenses, and instructing him to return funds he had already received.

Netanyahu’s lawyers are likely to ask for another year before reconvening, Channel 13 said, adding that the court is almost sure to reject the request and instead settle for calling witnesses in January or February.

The prosecution is likely to ask that hearings be held three or four times a week in order to wrap up as soon as possible, as was done during former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s criminal trial, the television report said. The defense is almost certain to oppose this request as well.

The prosecution is also expected to request that the hearings start with Case 4000, in which the premier is accused of approving regulatory moves benefiting the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecom in exchange for positive news coverage from the company’s Walla news site.

The lead prosecutor in the case, Liat Ben Ari is slated to arrive at Sunday’s hearing with a security guard that was assigned to her after she received death threats.

Netanyahu has said he is the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy and called the allegations baseless.

Scuffles have broken out between police and protesters who took to the Israeli streets on Saturday night, including to PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, demanding he resign and lambasting his coronavirus response.

Police used water cannons and mounted units to disperse crowds in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as thousands of protesters demanded Netanyahu’s resignation over corruption charges and demonstrated against the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government on Friday announced new restrictions over Covid-19, which has taken a heavy economic toll on the country.

Protesters argued that instead of taking action to avoid the second wave of the disease, the Israeli leader had been more preoccupied with his own legal woes.

“Instead of planning a fight against the justice system, you should have been planning to fight against unemployment,” one of the speakers at the anti-government rally in Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore Park said, as cited by the Jerusalem Post.

Police arrested some protesters in Tel Aviv, where demonstrators blocked roads and threw objects at officers. At least one officer was allegedly pepper-sprayed.

Header: Police use water cannon as Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem July 18, 2020. © Reuters / Ammar Awad

Source: TOI