THE NEUTRAL ZONE
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally pled not guilty to corruption charges Monday, which is expected to lead to a drawn-out legal battle with major implications for Israel’s future. Netanyahu left the hearing early after about 20 minutes, deferring to his legal team’s defense submission proclaiming his innocence. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, and the Israeli prosecutors have amassed over 300 witnesses including former associates of Netanyahu who are set to testify against him to reduce their own respective charges.
Netanyahu’s attorneys have called for the courts to postpone evidentiary hearings, citing a lack of time for the defense to prepare for the trial. A group of anti-Netanyahu protesters gathered outside the hearing, some carrying signs that said “Crime Minister.” His corruption trial looms ahead of the parliamentary elections to be held in late March, as the embattled Prime Minister is facing public backlash for his handling of the coronavirus.
Several of Netanyahu’s supporters also showed up to protest at the hearing, one carrying a sign reading “You will never walk alone, Netanyahu.” Parliamentary Speaker and Netanyahu ally Yariv Levin urged a postponement of the proceedings due to their proximity to the upcoming election, stating that allowing them to continue at this time would be a “gross interference in the election process by the judiciary.”
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Israel PM Netanyahu pleads not guilty as corruption trial resumes – Al Jazeera – 2/8/2021
Netanyahu, the first Israeli prime minister to be indicted in office, was charged last year over allegations he accepted improper gifts and sought to trade regulatory favour with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage. The combative 71-year-old leader denounced the charges as “fabricated and ludicrous” ahead of his first court appearance in May and claimed to be the victim of a witch-hunt, taking direct aim at his hand-picked attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit.
Israel’s Netanyahu walks out on his own corruption trial – The Washington Post – 2/8/2021
Netanyahu quit the courtroom some 20 minutes after the start of Monday morning’s hearing, which continued on without him. The sessions kick-started the second phase of a precedent-setting legal procedure, which, for the first time, involves the indictment of an Israeli prime minister while still in office and campaigning for elections in the coming weeks — the fourth in two years.
Netanyahu formally pleads not guilty in 2nd court appearance of corruption trial – The Times of Israel – 2/8/2021
Earlier, Netanyahu and the other defendants, Shaul and Iris Elovitch and Arnon Mozes, arrived at the court after security was stepped up, with snipers on nearby roofs in line with the premier’s normal security arrangements and with little fanfare, after the prime minister on Sunday asked his supporters not to come to the court due to surging coronavirus infections.
Netanyahu formally denies corruption charges – The Jerusalem Post – 2/8/2021
At the hearing earlier Monday, Netanyahu’s lawyer Boaz Ben Tzur demanded that no witnesses be called “for another 120 days” to give the defense sufficient time to prepare for such a mega-case, which would also incidentally get the prime minister past coalition negotiations if he forms the next government. Prosecutors Liat Ben Ari and Yehudit Tirosh said they could be ready to call the first witness, former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua, “within one week.”
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