- “We did not find in the explanations of the petitioner reason to justify an exception to this rule.”
- Netanyahu's lawyers argued based on security and COVID-19 concerns.
- Netanyahu faces three cases regarding corruption, abuse of office, and breach of trust.
The Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request not to attend the start of his criminal trial, scheduled to kick off on Sunday. Instead, he will be required to appear for the opening hearing on Sunday. The Israeli Prime Minister will now have to appear in person during the opening of his trial to respond to allegations of fraud, corruption, and abuse of office.
“The rule is that a defendant is present for the reading [of the indictment], which is the opening of the trial. This is the case in every criminal procedure including the current criminal procedure,” the judges wrote in their ruling. “We did not find in the explanations of the petitioner reason to justify an exception to this rule,” they added.
Usually, defendants are normally required to attend the opening hearing of their trials in person, but the lawyers for the Israeli Prime Minister had asked the courts to exempt their client from attending. They argued that the May 24 event is merely a technical hearing, and the Prime Minister’s presence won’t, therefore, be necessary.
Furthermore, the lawyers also advanced an argument to the effect that there are security issues. The lawyers explained that, first, the Prime Minister, having to move to Jerusalem, needs an escort, and this entails additional expenses for the state coffers. They also stated that another risk is related to crowds and the global Covid-19 pandemic.
However, the court, in it’s ruling, rejected the request, stating that the reasons presented are not sufficient to justify Netanyahu’s absence from the first hearing. Netanyahu’s corruption charges will be read at this hearing. The court also has guaranteed that social distance and other measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus will be adhered to effectively.
Netanyahu is currently engaged in a national unity emergency government with his former political rival, Benny Gantz, who leads the Blue and White alliance. The two leaders gained the confidence of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, on May 17. According to plans, Netanyahu and Gantz will take 18 months each leading the new Government.
As required by law, Netanyahu won’t be compelled to resign until a sentence is officially issued against him, a process that is estimated would take many years. This is the first case in Israel’s history in which a sitting prime minister is accused of criminal offenses, and the final court decision could end Netanyahu’s career. Netanyahu is the longest-serving Prime Minster in Israeli history.
In regard to the case, Netanyahu, for his part, has always denied the accusations made against him, insisting that he is innocent. The indictment against Netanyahu concerns three accusations.
The first is known as “Case 1000,” where the Prime Minister is accused of abuse of office. In particular, Netanyahu is accused of having received gifts worth around $240,000 from overseas billionaires between 2007 and 2016, including cigars, champagne, jewelry and more in exchange for favors.
In “Case 2000,” the Prime Minister is accused of alleged negotiations with Arnon “Noni” Mozes, the owner of one of the major Israeli newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth, aimed at obtaining more favorable media coverage in exchange for a limited circulation of the rival free newspaper, Israel Hayom.
Finally, “Case 4000,” is widely regarded as the most serious one against the Prime Minister. This has to do with accusations that Netanyahu advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from its Walla news site.