Written by By Anna Harding, CNN Jerusalem
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared in court Thursday as a key witness in a corruption investigation against him and close aides, amid criticism of his decision to delay the hearing ahead of January elections.
On the same day, police announced they had indicted Netanyahu’s wife Sara Netanyahu on three separate fraud and breach of trust charges — allegations against which she has denied.
The couple, who wore suits to court, declined to comment to reporters who had arrived at their Jerusalem residence.
The stakes were high on Thursday. If Netanyahu’s close ally, attorney Michael Kedar, testifies at the hearing, he could implicate the prime minister on corruption allegations that date back to 2008, police said.
No specific details of what Kedar claims to have told the police or the court, but the outspoken lawyer — whose international law firm has represented Netanyahu for more than two decades — has already appeared in several cases against the prime minister and his wife.
Kedar provided the same evidence to the police in the first investigation against Netanyahu in 2000, according to Israeli media reports.
Netanyahu’s attorney-general declared the case against the prime minister “flimsy” and the case against Kedar closed in 2002, arguing that his remarks did not implicate Netanyahu in criminal conduct.
His decisions in the new investigation — which is targeting suspicions of fraud and breach of trust — should be reviewed by the attorney general, said Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Netanyahu’s personal life has been under scrutiny in a series of corruption cases. Sara Netanyahu was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of fraudulently obtaining luxurious gifts from wealthy individuals.
In return, she allegedly promised to promote the recipients’ business interests and lent them money, investigators said. The prime minister is also suspected of receiving $300,000 worth of expensive cigars and champagne and carrying out personal favors for two businessmen.
In the first cases, Netanyahu denied any wrongdoing.
The hearing in the Kedar case, which lasted several hours, came just two days after he told Israeli lawmakers he intended to continue to be prime minister during a recent poll date announcement. Police had expected the hearing to take place last week.
Questions were raised when Netanyahu delayed the fact-finding hearing by 12 months, just days before the scheduled elections. The delay has prompted criticism from Israeli media and opposition politicians.
In addition to MKs, leaders of the Israeli opposition — including Labor’s Oren Hazan, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Ha’aretz’s Aluf Benn — slammed Netanyahu on Thursday for his delaying tactics.
“After shamelessly manipulating and delaying the hearing on Sunday, Netanyahu is again delaying today’s hearing regarding the allegations surrounding Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s request to bring charges against him in relation to the affairs involving various businesspeople and officials,” Benn wrote in Haaretz.
“Netanyahu does not want his criminal arrangements to be aired publicly. He will stop at nothing to thwart a just investigation of the criminal allegations against him by the Israeli police.”