Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's defense team on Monday asked the court to postpone the next stage of his trial on corruption charges by three months.
Netanyahu was indicted last year for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. He stands accused of accepting lavish gifts from wealthy friends and offering to grant favors to powerful media moguls in exchange for favorable coverage of him and his family. The latest hearing was postponed last month due to lockdown restrictions on public gatherings.
Netanyahu arrived in at the Jerusalem District Court for the resumption of the trial and where he pleaded not guilty. "I confirm the written answer submitted in my name," Netanyahu said, standing before a three-judge panel in a heavily-guarded Jerusalem District Court.
After around 20 minutes, Netanyahu left the courtroom without explanation and his motorcade departed. The hearing continued in his absence, with his lawyers arguing for more than an hour that constitutional procedures had not been followed. The prosecution then rejected those arguments, saying the attorney general had approved the investigations in dozens of meetings.
Netanyahu's lawyer, Boaz Ben Tzur, later asked the judges to postpone the next hearing by "90 to 120" days.
Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman, who heads the judges' panel, replied the trial has already been postponed multiple times due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent health restrictions. "Basically, you want to postpone the evidentiary phase [of the trial] by six months," Friedman-Feldman said.
The hearing ended without a decision on whether the evidentiary phase will be postponed. Judge Friedman-Feldman said at the end of the hearing the panel will "consider everything" when making a decision on another possible postponement, which looks to be at least another month to a month and a half.
Despite the appeal to both pro and anti-Netanyahu protesters not to congregate outside the court due to coronavirus, demonstrators who gathered outside could be heard inside the room where the hearing was being held. They held banners and chanted anti-Netanyahu slogans.
The charges against Netanyahu are divided into three separate cases.
The most serious - known as Case 4000, in which the premier is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust - centers on the allegation that Netanyahu negotiated with Shaul Elovitch of the telecommunications giant Bezeq to secure positive coverage on his Walla! news site in exchange for government policies benefiting Bezeq.Elovitch and his wife were also indicted.
Case 2000 concerns allegations Netanyahu sought a deal with Arnon Mozes, the owner of Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper, that would have seen it give him more favorable coverage. Mozes is also the publisher of Ynet. Elovitch and Mozes also appeared in court on Monday.
Case 1000 involves allegations Netanyahu and his family received gifts, including luxury cigars, champagne and jewelry estimated to be worth more than NIS 700,000 ($213,000), from wealthy individuals, in exchange for financial or personal favors.