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Thursday, July 16, 1998 Published at 23:21 GMT 00:21 UK

World: Middle East

Sex scandal in Israel treason trial

Lawyer Pninat Yanai with her former client Nahom Manbar (right) last month

A sex scandal with alleged links to the prime minister's office has broken in Israel, with lawyers for an Israeli businessman convicted of treason demanding the dismissal of one of the judges in the case. Duncan Kennedy reports from Jerusalem:

[ image: Duncan Kennedy]
Duncan Kennedy
With allegations of sex and lies, only the video tape is missing from this scandal, which has knocked all talk about the Middle East peace process off the front pages here.

The scandal centres around a man called Nahum Manbar, an Israeli businessman convicted of selling equipment for Iran's chemical warfare programme.

It is alleged that one of his former lawyers, Pninat Yanai, was having an affair with the judge in the case, and may have been passing information about it to him. It is also claimed that at the same time, she had close ties with a spokesman in Binyamin Netanyahu's office.

Mr Netanyahu has already caused controversy in the Manbar case by calling for the court to impose a stiff sentence on him, something the court took great exception to.

Sacked by defence team

[ image: Binyamin Netanyahu: Has said he hopes Nahum Manbar will
Binyamin Netanyahu: Has said he hopes Nahum Manbar will "pay a heavy price"
Miss Yanai was sacked by the defence team, although she denies all the allegations.

She admits she did know the judge, Amnon Strashnov, because she used to work in his office. But she says the accusations of a sexual relationship with him are "a low and despicable act of brutality." She says Judge Strashnov would have kicked her out of his office had she tried to raise the Manbar case with him. Her view is that she's being blamed by the existing defence team for having lost the court case.

As for the claim that she had links with Mr Netanyahu's office, Miss Yanai says she never discussed the trial with his aide and had never said Mr Netanyahu himself had discussed the case with the judge.

An adviser to the prime minister today shrugged off the notion of an enquiry into the matter to establish whether Mr Netanyahu had been meddling in the case, and although Mr Netanyahu is no stranger to scandal, there's no sign yet that he is in any political or legal trouble.

As for Nahum Manbar himself, his defence team want Judge Strashnov removed from the case. Mr Manbar is awaiting sentence for treason.

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