Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial will begin in January 2021, a judge ruled Sunday morning, adding witnesses will be called to testify three times a week.
The new timeline may have a significant impact on the transfer of the premiership to Blue and White leader and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, slated for November 2021.
Netanyahu is on trial on charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.
The prosecution has asked that the hearings start with Case 4000, the most serious charge facing the prime minister, in which Netanyahu is accused of ordering that regulations on communications giant Bezeq be eased in return for the phone company’s chief shareholder Shaul Elovitch giving Netanyahu positive coverage on his news site Walla.
Elovitch’s own defense team slammed the request Sunday, saying the prosecution had withheld investigative materials from them.
They also claimed Elovitch’s son, Or, was coerced by police into pressuring Elovitch to turn state’s witness against the prime minister. They further charged the attorney consultation room was illegally bugged.
At Sunday’s hearing, at which Netanyahu was not present, the prime minister’s new attorney Yossi Segev requested a delay on the basis of the face mask requirement.
“I cannot interrogate witnesses when they are sitting with a mask on,” he said, and addressing Judge Rivkah Friedman Feldman, continued, “how will you know if they are telling the truth?”
The judge dismissed Segev’s request, saying the pandemic couldn’t be helped in this case.
Segev also noted it was still unclear whether he would be the prime minister’s permanent legal representative in light of the State Comptroller Committee’s refusal to allow Netanyahu to accept donations to cover his legal fees.
Friedman Feldman said it was impossible to continue with lawyers who were quitting. “I do not understand. Today you are here and tomorrow you may not be?” she said. “I hope that you won’t be replaced before next time.”
Friedman Feldman was on the panel that sent former prime Minister Ehud Olmert to prison on corruption charges.
In addition to Case 4000, two more charges face the prime minister. Case 1000 accuses Netanyahu and his wife Sara with receiving illegal gifts from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu is suspected of striking a deal with media mogul Arnon (Noni) Mozes whereby the premier would weaken the Sheldon Adelson-backed daily Israel Hayom in return for more favorable coverage in Mozes’ Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
In his defense, Netanyahu said he specifically voted against the law that would have weakened Israel Hayom, risking his political career in 2014 and calling new elections because of it.