JERUSALEM – Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a rare appearance at his corruption trial on Tuesday but an expected courtroom encounter with an ex-aide who has turned state’s witness never happened as judges postponed his testimony.
Netanyahu, who served as prime minister for 12 consecutive years but lost power in June and is now the opposition leader, has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud in cases that centre on alleged regulatory favours he awarded to media tycoons in return for positive press coverage and illicit receipt of gifts, including cigars and champagne.
He is not required to attend all the hearings in his trial, which began last year, and had not previously been seen in the court since April. The 72-year-old made no comment to reporters as he arrived at the Jerusalem courthouse in a motorcade.
Live Israeli TV broadcasts from outside the courtroom, a noisy street demonstration by pro-Netanyahu supporters and a phalanx of bodyguards added to a sense of drama.
Netanyahu’s former spokesman and close adviser Nir Hefetz, one of a small group of ex-aides to turn state’s witness, had been due to begin on Tuesday what is likely to be weeks or even months of testimony.
But the three-judge court agreed to a defence motion requesting time to study new evidence provided by another witness, so it postponed Hefetz’s testimony until Nov. 22.
With Netanyahu now out of office, police and security forces did not ring the courthouse as they had during his appearances when he was still prime minister.
Netanyahu has vowed to unseat the new coalition government of his successor, Naftali Bennett.
But the government, careful to avoid divisive issues such as peacemaking with the Palestinians, seems well-entrenched for now, especially after parliament passed a budget this month. Failure to do so would have triggered a new election.