Netanyahu appears in court as his former aide prepares to take a stand

Netanyahu appears in court as his former aide prepares to take a stand

Jerusalem – Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared in court for the first time in more than half a year on Tuesday as one of his confidants prepared to take a stand against him in a high-profile corruption case.

But the long-awaited testimony was postponed until next week after a legal challenge from Netanyahu’s lawyer.

Nir Hefetz, a former aide to Netanyahu, is a prominent prosecution witness in the case against Netanyahu, with his close proximity to Netanyahu during his several years in office a key piece of evidence. Hefetz left a long career in journalism in 2009 to work as a spokesman for the Netanyahu government, and then in 2014 became a spokesman and advisor to the Netanyahu family.

Netanyahu entered the courtroom Tuesday accompanied by a lawyer, his youngest son Avner and two Likud supporters. The security presence around the building was much smaller than in previous sessions, when Netanyahu was prime minister.

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His lawyers immediately requested a postponement of Tuesday’s hearing after reports that another witness presented new evidence alleging that Netanyahu’s wife, Sarah, accepted an expensive bracelet as a gift from two billionaire friends, Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.

Netanyahu’s lawyers argued that the former prime minister and his wife were taken aback by the allegations and had a right to study the evidence before Hefetz took the stage.

After a short break, the court accepted the request and postponed Hefetz’s testimony until next Monday. Dozens of Netanyahu supporters waited outside the building, and a man shouted at reporters, “We’ll throw you in the trash.”

Netanyahu is accused of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three separate cases.

The first relates to Netanyahu allegedly receiving gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy friends, including Milchan and Packer. In the second case, Netanyahu is accused of masterminding positive coverage in a major Israeli newspaper in return for promoting legislation that would have harmed the paper’s main opponent. The third, dubbed Case 4000, entails that Netanyahu pass legislation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the owner of Israeli telecom giant Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage on its news site Walla.

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In 2018, after police arrested him in connection with Case 4000, Hefetz signed the state witness deal and provided investigators with recordings of conversations with Netanyahu and his family. But because of his close relationship with the former prime minister, Hefetz’s testimony is likely relevant to all three cases.

The former prime minister denied any wrongdoing. As prime minister, Netanyahu has long rejected calls to step down while he is being indicted, using his position to attack law enforcement, the media and the courts.

But Netanyahu failed to be re-elected in four consecutive elections, with voters deadlocked over his leadership and impeachment. Early this year, he was ousted from office after a group of rivals managed to put together a governing coalition without his long-time Likud party.

He is now the leader of the opposition in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

Netanyahu’s criminal trial began in 2020, while the country was mired in a protracted political crisis and dealt with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Witnesses began taking the stand in April, and the proceedings are expected to last several years.

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