Netanyahu Graft Trial Goes Full Throttle as Testimony Begins

Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial swings into high gear on Monday as prosecutors begin to build their courtroom case against the Israeli leader, whose political life is already on the line after a fourth inconclusive election.

Prosecutors allege the country’s longest-serving premier abused his position to illicitly accept -- and at times demand -- fine wines and expensive cigars from billionaire friends. They also maintain he sacrificed the integrity of his office to win favorable media coverage, reshaping the country’s regulatory landscape to benefit one media publisher, and weighing proposed legislation that could have favored another. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

Although his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust officially began in May 2020, the hearings held so far in Jerusalem District Court have been brief and procedural. This is the first time prosecutors will be calling witnesses and digging in to the substance of suspicions that spawned years of criminal investigations.

Court sessions are now scheduled to take place three times a week, and with a roster of more than 300 witnesses for the prosecution, the trial could drag on for months, if not years. The long days he’ll spend in court have raised questions about his ability to govern if he wins a sixth term -- or heads a transitional government if the electoral stalemate can’t be resolved and another election is called.

The optics of the 71-year-old prime minister fighting graft charges in court will be unflattering as Netanyahu struggles to piece together a coalition after the March 23 election. While Netanyahu and his lawyers sit in court on Monday, President Reuven Rivlin will start meeting with the heads of parties that entered parliament to see whom they recommend to form the next governing coalition. Based on those conversations he’ll decide who to appoint, no later than Wednesday.

The anti-Netanyahu camp similarly has no easy path to forming a government.

Netanyahu is the first incumbent Israeli leader to stand trial, and the charges against him have played a large role in the political turmoil that has gripped the country as it’s lurched from election to election over the past two years. Remaining in power gives him his best chance of avoiding prosecution because it offers the opportunity of enacting legislation that would shield a sitting leader from trial.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.