Jerusalem: Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the first sitting premier of the country to go on trial for corruption on Sunday, days after he returned to power following months of political deadlock.
Netanyahu is accused of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three different cases, dubbed Case 1000 (fraud and breach of trust), Case 2000 (fraud and breach of trust) and Case 4000 (bribery, fraud and breach of trust).
He has denied all the charges, claiming that he is the victim of an “attempted coup by overaggressive police, biased prosecutors and a hostile media”.
A three-judge panel on Wednesday rejected a request for exemption and directed him to appear in person during the reading of the chargesheet. The panel ruled that the reasoning behind Netanyahu’s request for exemption from personal appearance “did not justify such a deviation from the norm”, which requires the presence of the accused at the opening of his or her trial.
“This is how it is in every criminal proceeding, and this is how it will be in current criminal proceedings,” the judges wrote in their ruling.
Netanyahu on Tuesday requested exemption on the ground that his and his bodyguards’ presence would violate Health Ministry’s coronavirus restrictions.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of fraud and breach of trust over gifts he allegedly received from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and billionaire James Packer.
According to the indictment, Netanyahu received cigars and champagne from the two over the course of several years. His family members, the indictment states, also demanded and received gifts from the businessmen, and that the prime minister was aware of this fact.
Milchan and Packer’s gifts to the Netanyahus, including the Prime Minister’s wife, Sara, are estimated to have amounted to over 1 million shekels (about USD 280,000), according to police investigations.
Netanyahu has not denied that such gifts were given but has argued that they were “tokens of friendship”. The Israeli leader’s defence has been that “it is allowed to receive gifts from friends”. His lawyers have said that he was not aware of the requests made by his family members.
Case 2000 centers around Netanyahu’s alleged desire to receive better coverage in one of the country’s leading dailies, Yedioth Ahronoth.
According to the indictment, at a series of meetings between Netanyahu and the newspaper’s publisher, Arnon Mozes, the two men allegedly discussed a deal calling for the prime minister to try to limit the circulation of rival newspaper, Israel Hayom, which is owned by Netanyahu’s longtime political patron, Sheldon Adelson.
Mozes would have given Netanyahu favourable coverage in exchange.
Netanyahu was indicted for fraud and breach of trust in the case. Mozes has been charged with bribery in the matter and will also stand trial.
The Israeli prime minister was caught on tape telling Mozes that he would convince Israel Hayom to limit its circulation which would have benefitted Yediot Ahronoth financially.