Netanyahu’s favors were ‘currency’, prosecutor says as corruption trial begins By Reuters

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3/3 © Reuters. Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wave flags and hold a sign depicting Netanyahu during a rally as Netanyahu’s corruption trial resumes near Jerusalem District Court 2/3

By Maayan Lubell JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli prosecutor told a court on Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had helped a business couple close deals worth hundreds of millions of shekels in exchange for favorable coverage of him in a news website they controlled. Speaking at the opening of Netanyahu’s corruption trial, state prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari said: “The relationship between Netanyahu and the (co) defendants became a bargaining chip, something that could be negotiated.” “This coin could distort the judgment of a public servant,” Ben-Ari said. Netanyahu has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud in a case that, along with an inconclusive election last month, has clouded his prospects of remaining in office. It is the first criminal trial of a sitting Israeli prime minister. In a video statement on his Facebook page (NASDAQ 🙂 after the day’s court session concluded, Netanyahu again accused Israeli legal authorities of organizing a witch hunt to remove “a strong right-wing prime minister” from office. “This is what an attempted coup looks like,” he said, using a term he has invoked before about the prosecution’s conduct. The state said Netanyahu was responsible for regulations that allowed a telecommunications power couple, Shaul and Iris Elovitch, to win deals worth “many hundreds of millions of shekels” in exchange for sweetening the prime minister’s coverage in the Walla’s news site, which was later under his control. Former Walla CEO Alan Yeshua, testifying on behalf of the prosecution, said that while working there he had been “bombarded” by demands from the Elovitchs and Netanyahu’s confidants to promote the prime minister and minimize or attack his political rivals. “The Elovitches asked me not to let the editors know that the reason for the requests had to do with impending regulatory moves,” Yeshua told the court. The coverage demands sparked “daily discussions” with staff who “got into a fight,” Yeshua said. Iris Elovitch, who like her husband denies doing anything wrong, interrupted Yeshua, shouting: “How much can you lie?” Netanyahu, who faces two additional cases, arrived at the Jerusalem District Court in a dark suit and a black protective mask. He huddled with lawyers as protesters for and against him could be heard shouting outside. He spent an hour in court, departing with his consent before Yeshua testified. Meanwhile, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin began consulting with party delegations about who could form the next coalition government: a change after the March 23 elections, the fourth in two years, did not even give Netanyahu nor to its rivals a clear mandate. Rivlin said ethical considerations could play a role in his decision, apparently alluding to Netanyahu’s trial. “I don’t see a way that a government can be established,” Rivlin told representatives of the centrist Yesh Atid, the largest opposition party, which hopes to topple Netanyahu’s conservative Likud. “The people of Israel should be very concerned that we may be dragged into a fifth election.”