AG denies police leaned on witnesses to lie in Netanyahu graft cases

Mandelblit also rejects TV report that investigators used son of Bezeq tycoon to convince him to ax lawyer; PM’s attorneys say AG’s statement flies in the face of the evidence

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv, on September 3, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv, on September 3, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit denied Tuesday that investigators pressured state’s witnesses to give false testimony in a series of corruption cases involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mandelblit also rejected accusations that improper pressure was applied on suspects in the probes to turn state’s witness.

“There is no basis to claims about pressure being applied on state’s witnesses to give versions [of testimony] that are not the truth,” Mandelblit wrote in a letter to Avi Himi, the head of the Israel Bar Association.

Over the weekend, Himi called on Mandelblit to open an investigation after Israeli television reported that police tried to have the son of Shaul Elovitch convince him to fire his lawyer as part of an effort to have him testify for the state.

Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecoms giant, is facing bribery charges in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of offering regulatory benefits to Elovitch, in exchange for positive coverage of him and his family in the Bezeq-owned Walla news site.

“As for the claim that Or Elovitch was sent on behalf of police to influence his father to fire his lawyer, this claim is based on a quote from a recording that was made for Or Elovitich and his father during the investigation. However, this quote is a fragment that does not truly reflect the face of things,” Mandelblit said.

“A reading of all the relevant investigatory materials leads to a completely different picture,” he added.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing in Case 4000, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

Lawyers for Netanyahu, who faces criminal charges in three separate cases, said Mandelblit’s letter was “in complete contradiction” to the evidence.

“The investigatory materials reveal the application of violent and unprecedented pressure toward state’s witnesses and their families,” they were quoted saying by Hebrew media.

According to a Channel 12 news report Friday, Elovitch was held in custody twice since the Case 4000 investigation began several years ago and on at least one of those occasions was at a detention facility that had a room designated for detainees to speak freely with their attorneys, without police listening in. However, bugs were installed in that room as Elovitch’s son was sent in as a police tactic in the effort to reach a state witness deal.

Police investigators had believed attorney Jack Chen — who provided legal advice to Netanyahu in two other cases against him, known as Cases 1000 and 2000 — was preventing Elovitch from agreeing to testify against the premier and turning state witness, according to the report.

They decided to use his son, Or Elovitch — who was also detained by police on suspicion of being involved in the case — in an attempt to get him to switch lawyers. In a recording from the room designated for detainees to meet their lawyers, an investigator could be heard speaking with the young Elovitch before the father entered.

Following the report, Himi, the Israel Bar Association head, said “all boundaries have been crossed.”

“It is inconceivable that the police try to harm a person’s right for adequate legal representation, and try to get an attorney fired to achieve their goals,” he said in a statement.

Channel 12’s report — which feeds into Likud’s campaign, days before the September 17 elections — came after Netanyahu and his political allies were repeatedly accusing the TV network of waging a campaign against the premier by publishing damaging leaks from the cases against him. Netanyahu has even called on the public to boycott Channel 12.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and Nir Hefetz, left, arrive at the weekly cabinet meeting held in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 13, 2009. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The report also followed a story published Friday morning by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that revealed some of the police tactics that had helped secure state witness deals with longtime Netanyahu family spokesman and confidant Nir Hefetz and with the premier’s former chief of staff Ari Harow.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in the three corruption probes, as well as bribery in Case 4000. The prime minister, who denies any wrongdoing, has a pre-indictment hearing scheduled with Mandelblit on October 2-3, just weeks after the upcoming elections.

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