Netanyahu’s graft trial to pause for 2 weeks as first witness wraps up testimony

The first witness in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial wrapped up his testimony Tuesday, with the court halting proceedings for two weeks to let the defense prepare to cross-examine him.

Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of Walla news, has been testifying three days a week since the evidentiary stage of the trial began on April 5. Following the Jerusalem District Court’s decision, Wednesday’s scheduled hearing will be canceled, as will the three days of hearings next week.

The next hearing will be held on May 3 to discuss several requests by Netanyahu’s attorneys to release pieces of evidence. The cross-examination of Yeshua will begin May 4.

Yeshua is a key 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 to illicitly and lucratively affect the business interests of Bezeq’s controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch. In exchange, Elovitch allegedly provided Netanyahu with positive coverage of the prime minister and his family by the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the case, while Elovitch and his wife Iris were also charged with bribery. All three defendants deny wrongdoing.

Shaul Elovitch (L) and his wife Iris (R) at the Jerusalem District Court on April 19, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Kicking off the seventh day of Yeshua’s testimony on Tuesday, prosecutors played a recording of a 2016 conversation between him and Iris Elovitch.

“I’m prepared to sell my soul to the devil for the [Bezeq] group. I’m ready for this. It costs me my health. You do something and get it from left and right,” Elovitch could be heard saying.

Her lawyer, Michal Rosen-Ozer, countered by saying prosecutors stopped the recording before Elovitch said that headlines need to be objective.

Prosecutors then played a recording in which Elovitch could be heard talking about the Netanyahus’ eldest son, Yair, who was questioned in the case but never charged.

“The Netanyahu couple doesn’t see all the articles, but Yair is monitoring all day. He is on the internet all day,” she said, adding that the prime minister’s son would rile up his mother Sara Netanyahu about the articles.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, his wife, Sara (c), and their son Yair during a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (not pictured), at Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem on December 8, 2013. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

In his testimony, Yeshua recalled the requests he received on Sara Netanyahu’s behalf “to please her.” He said the premier’s wife led the opposition to the appointment of Aviram Elad as Walla’s chief editor. Yeshua said Elad was told he was on a “trial period” and that he should only publish flattering articles about the Netanyahus.

FILE: Nir Hefetz arrives for a hearing at the Tel Aviv District on November 10, 2019. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Yeshua rejected claims by Netanyahu’s lawyers that the prime minister didn’t interfere with content on the site. He said Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu’s former media adviser who turned state’s witness in the case, “walked around and told everyone he was the editor and that every article — he approves.”

“Things like this needed to be discreet,” Yeshua said.

Prosecutors also played another recording from 2016 in which Iris Elovitch said to Yeshua that Yair Netanyahu was “looking to complain” about the content on the site.

“We strive to do our best for the Netanyahu family — for the father, mother and son,” Yeshua told her in response.

Monday’s testimony also involved alleged requests from the Netanyahu family, with Yeshua saying the premier’s associates ordered him to take down an article about Yair Netaynahu’s non-Jewish girlfriend.

Yeshua said he was told by Shaul Elovitch to remove the article about Yair Netanyahu’s personal life “at any cost.” According to the indictment against the prime minister, Netanyahu was involved in relaying that message to Elovitch.

In his Monday testimony, Yeshua described how both Yair Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu would interfere in the running of Walla.

“Iris and Shaul [Elovitch] kept telling me in messages that the son Yair gets up in the morning and checks everything and incites Sara by telling her things,” Yeshua said. “Here the relationship was that we belonged to [the Netanyahus] and we must completely do what they say.”

In addition to his charges in Case 4000, Netanyahu is also charged with fraud and breach of trust in two other cases, one of which also involves suspicions of trading regulatory favors for positive media coverage.

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