After much delay, Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust began on Monday. Ilan Yeshua, former chief executive of internet news site Walla, told the Jerusalem court that his boss feared that news stories angering Netanyahu would harm his chances of receiving regulatory relief.
Netanyahu is charged with bribery for having allegedly conferred huge regulatory benefits on Bezeq, a telecommunications company which owns Walla, in exchange for favourable coverage.
The first day’s trial centred on testimony regarding attempts by Netanyahu to publish negative reports on his right-wing rival Naftali Bennett, on the same day that the prime minister was relying on the Yamina leader to recommend him to the president to form the next government.
On Wednesday, Yeshua testified that aides to the prime minister had a role in vetting new appointments at Walla, including chief editor and other senior roles.
After Monday’s proceedings, Netanyahu gave a speech in which he accused the prosecution of “hypocrisy” and conducting a “witch hunt” against him. In characteristically inflammatory rhetoric, Netanyahu claimed: “This is how they try to overthrow a powerful prime minister from the right. This is what an attempt at a coup looks like. What is happening is an effort to trample democracy.”