Netanyahu trial begins

Benjamin Netanyahu  / Photo: Shlomi Yosef , Globes

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must answer charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the Jerusalem District Court.

Today, May 24, 2020, marks a low point in the history of the State of Israel. For the first time, an incumbent prime minister will be seated on the bench of the accused in a court of law. Something that in the past seemed hard to imagine is happening before our eyes.

More than three years after the police began their investigations into cases 1000 and 2000, and six months after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decided to indict Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of fraud and breach of trust in these two cases, and of receiving a bribe in case 4000 (the investigation of which began later), the prime minister's criminal trial opens today in the Jerusalem District Court. The three other accused in the trial are Shaul and Iris Elovitch, who are accused of having given a bribe to Netanyahu, and Arnon (Noni) Mozes, the publisher of Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot, who is accused of offering him a bribe.

The four accused claim that they are innocent and intend to fight an unyielding legal battle to prove it. In Netanyahu's case, the claim of innocence has been accompanied by a bare-knuckled assault on the legal system. According to him, Mandelblit and senior figures in the State Attorney's Office framed him in order to remove him from office. "This is an attempted coup d'état with false allegations and a tainted and tendentious investigative process," Netanyahu said after the charges against him were filed.

The accusations

The central accusation in Case 4000 is that, when serving as minister of communications as well as prime minister, Netanyahu made regulatory decisions in favor of the Bezeq Israeli Telecommunication Co. Ltd. (TASE: BEZQ) group, worth huge sums to the group, in return for Shaul Elovitch, at the time the controlling shareholder in Bezeq and in website Walla!, ensuring favorable and biased coverage of Netanyahu and members of his family on Walla! News.

The investigation found that in the period 2012-2017, the prime minister and his associates intervened blatantly and sometimes daily in content published on the Walla! News site, and sought to influence appointments of editors and reporters on the site, using their connections with Shaul and Iris Elovitch. The constant intervention, it was found, was aimed at promoting Netanyahu's personal interests through the publication of flattering reports and pictures lacking any critical perspective on the prime minister and his family.

It was also found that Shaul and Iris Elovitch brought influence to bear on reporting on the Walla! News website, to bias it in favor of Netanyahu's regulatory decisions benefiting Shaul Elovitch and the Bezeq group, out of a desire to continue promoting the business interests of the Bezeq group and its controlling shareholder.

In Case 2000, the accusation is that,  from 2009 for a period of years, Netanyahu and Arnon (Noni) Mozes, publisher of popular Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot, held meetings in which they discussed assisting each other in promoting their respective interests.

In this context, there was talk of Mozes assisting Netanyahu in bolstering his standing through positive and favorable coverage in Yediot Aharonot, in exchange for Netanyahu promoting the newspaper's economic interests by initiating and supporting legislative moves to curb the growing strength of free daily Israel Hayom, moves that did not materialize.

Case 1000 concerns gifts of valuable alcoholic drinks, cigars and jewelry to Netanyahu and his wife Sara over a period of years by Arnon Milchan. Altogether, the gifts are alleged to have been worth some NIS 750,000 in the period 2006-2017. It is also alleged that Australian businessman James Packer made gifts worth NIS 250,000 to Netanyahu over the same period. According to the charges, Netanyahu acted on Milchan's behalf in several matters relating to the communications market, helping him to promote investment in Channel 2, and tried to assist him in promoting a commercial venture with Indian company Tata.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Shaul Elovitch, Iris Elovitch, and Arnon Mozes have not been convicted of any crime, deny the charges against them, and are entitled to the presumption of innocence.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 24, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Benjamin Netanyahu  / Photo: Shlomi Yosef , Globes
Benjamin Netanyahu / Photo: Shlomi Yosef , Globes
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