Netanyahu says he won’t accept plea bargain in his corruption trial

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The start of the trial against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the District Court in Jerusalem. May 24, 2020. Photo by Amit Shabi / POOL

PM doubles down on attack on justice system, says he has nothing to hide, in TV interview hours after taking defendant’s bench.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday evening that he would not accept a plea bargain in his corruption trial, which began earlier in the day with the opening hearing.

Having repeatedly lambasted the criminal charges against him as “fabricated” and claimed that the justice system was trying to oust him for political reasons, including during a lengthy speech before entering the Jerusalem District Court hearing, Netanyahu spoke in the evening with the right-wing Channel 20.

In the interview, the premier repeated most of his arguments from his earlier speech.

Netanyahu was asked if he would sign a plea deal with the prosecution in any of the three cases against him.

“No, no way,” he responded.

Netanyahu also discussed his remarks outside the court to reporters, in which he alleged that he was being framed.

“I think it was important. You know why? Because for the first time, Israel’s citizens heard the truth. What I said outside the courtroom was the truth. It’s time to tell the truth,” Netanyahu said, with the interviewer nodding in agreement.

He said he wanted the trial broadcast live, “because I have nothing to hide, I want it all to be revealed.”Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is surrounded by Likud lawmakers as he gives a press statement ahead of the start of his trial at the District Court in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

Flanked by ministers and lawmakers from his Likud party, Netanyahu delivered televised remarks before the start of the hearing at the Jerusalem District Court, declaring that all his right-wing supporters were on trial along with him.

“Elements in the police and State Attorney’s Office banded together with left-wing journalists… to fabricate baseless cases against me,” he charged. “The goal is to oust a strong right-wing prime minister and to banish the right-wing camp from leadership of the country for many years.”

Netanyahu claimed that the “anyone but Bibi gang” sought to interfere in two of the three elections over the past year, in a bid to hurt Likud at the polls. He pointed to the police recommendation that he be charged ahead of the April 2019 elections and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to indict him before the latest election in March.

“They did everything so I wouldn’t stand here today as prime minister,” he said.

Netanyahu touted the support Likud received in the last elections, calling it a “vote of confidence” in him and a “vote of no-confidence” in those who investigated and pressed charges against him.

“I stand here today as your prime minister with my back straight and my head held high,” he said.

He again urged for the proceedings against him to be broadcast live — a request already rejected by Jerusalem District Court judges — and called for the recordings of Mandelblit from the so-called Harpaz affair, which the attorney general was never charged in, to be released.

He suggested Mandelblit had “something personal to hide” and said that if the public would “know the whole truth,” the cases against him would fall apart.

“The people recognize…: this is an attempted political coup against the will of the people,” he said.

Netanyahu vowed to press on and fight the charges, saying he would continue to lead Israel.

Mandelblit responded that prosecutors would “manage proceedings in this case like in any other case — professionally and only in court.

“Israel is a state of laws,” he said in a statement sent out by the Justice Ministry. “Therefore, the court is the only place to hear the sides’ arguments, to present the evidence of the prosecution, and to carefully evaluate all the arguments of the defense. There, and only there, will the defendants’ verdict be determined.

“We will continue to operate fearlessly, even in the face of the unfounded attempt to attribute to law enforcement ulterior considerations, an attempt that must be rejected in its entirety,” said Mandelblit.

“We will continue to work fairly and under the principle that all are equal under the law,” he concluded. “This is our obligation to the citizens of Israel.”

In addition to Netanyahu, the other defendants in the three cases against him were also at Sunday’s opening hearing: Arnon Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper; Shaul Elovitch, controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications company; and Elovitch’s wife, Iris Elovitch.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in all three cases, as well as bribery in one of them.

(Times of Israel).

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