Attorney General Avihai Mandleblit on Monday rejected calls to release the full recordings in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to negotiate a deal to help the Yedioth Ahronoth’s publisher, in exchange for favorable coverage, saying such a move could interfere with the investigations into the prime minister.
“The uncovering of the recordings could lead to obstruction” of the probes, Mandelblit said during a speech at the Netanya Academic College.
The attorney general said he would consider releasing the full audio recordings after police closed the investigations into Netanyahu, and said those urging him to drop or push forward the proceedings “aren’t having any influence.”
Along with police, Mandelblit is reportedly in possession of the damning audio recordings in which Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, Yedioth’s publisher, can be heard devising a plan that would see Yedioth tone down its routinely hostile coverage of the prime minister in return for Netanyahu advancing moves that would defang its main competition, the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom.
After Mandelblit ordered the criminal investigations into Netanyahu in early January, snippets of the Netanyahu-Mozes conversations were leaked to Hebrew-language media outlets on a near-daily basis.
During his speech, Mandelblit also defended his decision to hold some of the material on Netanyahu before launching an investigation, dismissing criticism of how he’s handled of the cases.
“Waiting to open the investigation in the [case] was an informed and justified decision,” he said. “That decision was driven by one consideration: what will promote the public interest.”
He added that the police investigations into Netanyahu were being conducted “to my satisfaction.”
His comments came as left-wing activists called on the Netanyahu-appointed Mandelblit, a former cabinet secretary for the prime minister, to recuse himself from leading the investigation. Meanwhile, Netanyahu and his cohorts have accused the media of trying to force the attorney general into approving an indictment.
Netanyahu reportedly told investigators he was playing along with Mozes to gauge the newspaper publisher’s plans, but was not serious about a quid pro quo deal with the publisher, his arch-rival.
In addition to the allegations that he tried to negotiate favorable media coverage with Mozes, Netanyahu is also facing another investigation into claims that he and his wife received thousands of shekels’ worth of luxury gifts from an Israeli Hollywood-based film producer.
Police are checking whether Netanyahu and his wife Sara received some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($100,000-150,000) in gifts of cigars and fine wines from the producer, Arnon Milchan. The couple have reportedly insisted that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable, since the Milchans are their best friends.
Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing, on Monday termed the investigations against him “fake,” declaring them part of a “media conspiracy” of “unprecedented scope” geared to topple his government.
Analysts have said indictments are possible in both cases, and some have begun to see the twin scandals as heralding the possible end of Netanyahu’s nearly eight years in power.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.