Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Friday defended his role in the corruption investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling attendees at a Bar Association conference in Eilat that everyone in Israel is answerable to the law, regardless of status.
“There is no person or governmental institution that is above the law,” he said.
The attorney general has faced allegations that he dragged his feet before launching the multi-pronged investigation into the prime minister over suspicions of graft and quid pro quo schemes.
Mandelblit — who previously served as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary for three years — said that as head of Israel’s legal establishment, he personally bears responsibility for decisions pertaining to sensitive and complex law-enforcement cases, including those involving public figures. There is, he said, a clear public interest in carrying out speedy investigations into public officials.
“Decisions on investigative activity during an investigation and the decision on whether to file charges at the end of it will always be based on professional considerations, and professional considerations only,” said Mandelblit.
“Handling the affair involving the prime minister is not fundamentally different from handling those involving other public figures,” he said. “I often hear calls for me not to deal with cases involving the prime minister, and my answer is that this is not a choice, it is my duty, and if I do not fulfill it — then I am not doing my job faithfully.”
Mandelblit officially announced just earlier this month that a criminal investigation involving Netanyahu had been launched, about seven months after a preliminary probe was opened.
The attorney general’s comments came a day after State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan also rejected claims that investigations over the years involving public officials are influenced by political considerations.
Speaking at the same conference in Eilat, Nitzan said: “Over the years, we’ve heard allegations that we’ve opened investigations into certain officials because they were right-wing, or left-wing, or Arab, and so on. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The top prosecutor said that the spate of convictions in recent years of high-ranking Israeli officials, including former president Moshe Katsav and former PM Ehud Olmert, “proves that there are no extraneous considerations. The law-enforcement system has proven that it does not hesitate to act where there are suspicions of criminal wrongdoing, even where the suspects were very senior officials.
“Sadly, sometimes we get attacked for initially opening a probe against a given person and not a full investigation, and then it’s argued that we are supposedly favoring him. This argument does not hold water,” he said.
Netanyahu is suspected of illicitly accepting gifts from wealthy benefactors and of an alleged quid pro quo deal involving media mogul Arnon (Noni) Mozes, who owns the daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
In transcripts of recordings that surfaced earlier this month, Netanyahu and Mozes appear to discuss a possible agreement under which the prime minister would advance legislation to reduce the circulation of the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily in exchange for friendlier coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu has been questioned several times about the recordings as well as the graft allegations, as have his wife, Sara, and their son Yair. He denies any wrongdoing.
Mandelblit said in a speech Monday that police had collected considerable evidence abroad in recent months in the graft investigation, which concerns alleged illicit benefits received for years by the Netanyahu family from various businessmen.