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The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday postponed the start of the public corruption trial against Prime Minister
until February in light of ongoing evidentiary disputes between the prosecution and the defense.
had been scheduled to start in January.
While the postponement seems like a modest victory for Netanyahu, who has consistently tried to push back the stage at which witnesses will be called, there was no indication from the court that there would be more delays.
If the trial proceeds according to a February calendar, it could fall in the middle of an election campaign.
However, the court did not postpone the upcoming deadlines of November 29 for the defense to file motions to dismiss the case on broad legal grounds without need for witnesses (motions the court is expected to reject) or the December 6 pre-trial hearing of those motions.
But in view of the evidentiary disputes, the court did push back the submission of a formal and final answer by Netanyahu and other defendants to the indictments against them to January 4.
On November 19, Jerusalem District Court Judge Rivkah Friedman-Feldman endorsed a request by Netanyahu to have certain pretrial evidentiary disputes heard by a different panel of judges.
Friedman-Feldman’s decision kept the trial and certain pretrial evidentiary issues under her purview, but specifically, it moved any issues that require a hearing out of the presence of Netanyahu’s defense lawyers to another panel.
Friedman-Feldman referred the handling of the other panel of judges to Jerusalem District Court President Aharon Farkash, who has yet to select the new panel.
It is unclear whether Netanyahu’s trial could be further delayed if Farkash does not act soon, or whether the separate panel issues may be handled in a period of weeks.
At a November 15 pretrial hearing, Friedman-Feldman seemed opposed to transferring any issues to another panel.
However, she later explained that she had altered her position after hearing from the state prosecution that some of the evidence in dispute could reflect poorly on Netanyahu and the other defendants in the cases.
Under a special process, the prosecution, without the defense in the room, will present the disputed evidence before this second judicial panel.
The second judicial panel will then decide whether the evidence is relevant and must be given to the defense, or whether it will remain classified, or privileged, and kept out of the trial.
Friedman-Feldman wanted to avoid exposure to evidence which could demean Netanyahu and other defendants, while at the same time coming to a conclusion that the evidence could not be admissible during the trial anyway.
This would have left her potentially unnecessarily prejudiced against Netanyahu and the defendants given that judges are directed only to view evidence that is admissible at trial.
The special issues before the panel, and without the defense present, will likely involve a woman who was not Nir Hefetz’s wife but with whom he was romantically involved, and who the police brought to confront him.
Hefetz is a former top aide to Netanyahu turned star state’s witness in Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair.
They may also relate to any negotiations between the prosecution and other former aides of Netanyahu turned state’s witnesses, Shlomo Filber and Ari Harow, as well as key witness and former Walla CEO, Ilan Yeshua.