Court rejects Netanyahu’s request to reveal redacted parts of probe approval

The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday rejected a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal team for prosecutors in his corruption trial to reveal redacted parts of a document dealing with the authorization to open the investigation that led to Case 4000, the most serious of the three cases against the premier.

Defense lawyers had asked for the full minutes of Justice Ministry meetings showing that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit approved the investigation before it was begun. Netanyahu’s team wants proof that the probe was started after Mandelblit gave his authorization, and claims that police investigators operated a wide-ranging probe beyond the scope of their authority.

Prosecutors, who so far provided only a redacted version of minutes from Justice Ministry meetings during which Mandelblit gave the go-ahead for the probe, say the investigation was opened with the full knowledge and authority of the attorney general.

Judges said they read the document and “did not find cause to order revealing the redacted parts.”

Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Case 4000, which involves suspicions that he granted regulatory favors benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecom, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his family from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site. Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris Elovitch face bribery charges in the case.

The court on Tuesday also rejected a request by the Elovitches for their lawyers to be given the content of text messages between a judge and a state prosecutor in which the two cooperated on remand rulings for suspects in Case 4000.

Ronit Poznansky-Katz was dismissed in July 2018 as a Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court judge after it emerged that she had coordinated with Israel Securities Authority attorney Eran Shacham-Shavit on the remand decisions. She was later reinstated.

Attorneys for the Elovitches claim the messages show that arrest procedures were improperly used against witnesses, influencing the reliability of their testimony in the case.

However, the Jerusalem judges said that having read the WhatsApp messages, “we did not find enough relevance to justify providing the material to the defense.”

Israeli businessman, Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris arrive at Jerusalem District Court for a court hearing on February 8, 2021. (Reuven Kastro/POOL)

The developments came a day after Netanyahu made a brief, mandatory appearance at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing at which he formally pleaded not guilty to the three charges against him, and his lawyers then sought a postponement of further sessions.

In addition to Case 4000, Netanyahu also faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and Case 2000. The former involves suspicions Netanyahu illicitly accepted 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.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage in exchange for legislation weakening the rival newspaper Israel Hayom.

Mozes was charged with bribery in the case.

Netanyahu’s trial opened last May. Though the prime minister attended the first hearing, he was granted an exemption from appearing at later, largely procedural stages of the trial.

The evidentiary stage of the trial, which is next, is likely to be delayed until after the upcoming March 23 elections, during which Netanyahu hopes to retain his seat.

Netanyahu, who is the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office, denies any wrongdoing and has railed against the courts, prosecution, and media for what he terms a “witch hunt.”

His lawyers have repeatedly moved to delay and discredit the proceedings, filing complaints against the prosecution, alleging “criminal tactics” had been used against them, calling for changing the indictment against the prime minister, and claiming that police investigators had used illegitimate means to secure evidence, thus invalidating the charges.

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