AG rejects Netanyahu bid to delay indictment announcement — report

Prime minister accuses Avichai Mandelblit of caving to ‘pressure from the left and the media,’ ignoring new witnesses

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a Channel 12 News conference in Jerusalem on September 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a Channel 12 News conference in Jerusalem on September 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has reportedly decided to decline a request from Benjamin Netanyahu to delay until after election day an announcement regarding the possible indictment of the prime minister on corruption charges.

Netanyahu’s attorneys had met with Mandelblit last week and asked him not to announce whether he intends to file indictments in three corruption cases against Netanyahu before the April 9 ballot, insisting that doing so would amount to “intervention” in the elections.

According to reports aired on Channel 12 and Channel 13, however, the attorney general and the team of prosecutors working on Netanyahu’s cases have finished examining the evidence and are nearing decisions on indictments, which are expected to be announced next month.

Police have recommended Netanyahu be indicted for bribery in three separate cases, including one which involves accusations he gave out regulatory favors in exchange for positive media coverage.

According to Channel 12 news (also known as Hadashot news), Mandelblit has decided to reject Netanyahu’s request, arguing that delaying the announcement of his decision because it would hurt Netanyahu politically would itself amount to intervention in the elections.

Israelis will head to the polls on April 9, in an election largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu, who has served as prime minister for nearly a decade. He has denied the accusations against him and characterized the investigations as a witch hunt driven by the media and left meant to remove him from power by undemocratic means.

There was no immediate confirmation of the report from Mandelblit’s office, but Netanyahu condemned the attorney general, seeming to confirm the report.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reviews a drill of the Armored Corps at the Shizafon Base, in southern Israel on January 23, 2019. (Flash90)

“It looks like the attorney general has given in to the pressure from the left and the media to file indictments against Prime Minister Netanyahu no matter what — and during the campaign,” the Netanyahu statement said.

He claimed that Mandelblit had made the decision despite his legal team giving the attorney general’s office some 60 names of “significant witnesses” to probe before making a decision.

“The ink [on the request] has not yet dried when the prosecution rushed this evening to leak to they have no intention to examine these vital witnesses.”

The attorney general and top prosecutors have drafted a letter to Netanyahu’s attorneys clarifying that Mandelblit intends to announce his decision in the coming days — and that letter could be delivered as soon as Friday, Channel 12 reported.

The letter will explain that prosecutors are acting out of legal considerations alone, and cannot allow political considerations to play a role in the progress or handling of the case.

In his statement, Netanyahu repeated his past accusation that the indictment process was being rushed in order to hurt his campaign. “In the most fateful decision in the history of Israeli law, a process that takes a year and a half is being squeezed into a few days,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, right, during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on December 20, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We hope the tremendous pressure the left is bringing to bear on the attorney general doesn’t cause him to give in once more when he has to decide whether to treat two and a half articles in Walla as a bribe.”

If Mandelblit announces he intends to indict, Netanyahu would still be granted a hearing to argue against the charges, a process that may take months. A final indictment decision is thus only likely after election day.

Netanyahu is a suspect in three corruption investigations.

In Case 4000, reportedly the most serious of the three, he is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

Case 2000 involves a similar suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes.

Protesters outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem awaiting the arrival of police investigators coming to question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a graft investigation, June 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits and gifts worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues. Some reports have suggested that Mandelblit is leaning toward a charge of breach of trust in this case.

Netanyahu’s accusations drew harsh rebukes from the opposition.

Opposition leader MK Shelly Yachimovich, of Labor, called it “yet another unbridled and irresponsible attack by someone who doesn’t grasp the idea of the rule of law, believes in all his heart that he’s beyond the law and can dictate to the police, prosecution and now also the attorney general what they will investigate and what they won’t, when they will make their decisions and when they won’t, who will be his investigators and who his judges.”

Shelly Yachimovich leads a State Control Committee meeting in the Knesset on December 31, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

She accused Netanyahu of “thinking the people are stupid.”

Former prime minister Ehud Barak, a strident Netanyahu critic, said the attorney general “must not be sidetracked by these pathetic attempts at evasion.”

Mandelblit indicated in an interview with Channel 12 earlier this month that he would not delay an announcement of charges because of early elections.

“It’s not something that affects me,” he said. “I need to do my work as quickly as possible, although of course without compromising thoroughness and professionalism.”

Netanyahu has vowed not to step down if Mandelblit announces that he intends to indict him, pending a hearing, in any of the cases against him, asserting that the law does not require him to do so.

Israeli law only requires that a prime minister step down when they are convicted, but experts have suggested that Netanyahu could have a “problem” if he sought to stay in office after a formal indictment was filed at the completion of a hearing process. Under law and High Court of Justice precedent, ministers other than the prime minister are required to step down in such cases. There is no clear legal rule regarding the prime minister.

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