Attorney General resists opening probe into leaks from Netanyahu case

Rejecting criticism of Supreme Court chief justice, Mandelblit says investigation would have ‘a very low chance of yielding a result’ and would impinge on suspects’ privacy

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony for outgoing state prosecutor Shai Nitzan in Jerusalem, December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony for outgoing state prosecutor Shai Nitzan in Jerusalem, December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Thursday that he would not open an investigation into media leaks from the criminal cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rejecting Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut’s recommendation to do so.

“After further examination… the attorney general’s conclusion remains that an investigation should not be opened in this case,” Mandelblit wrote in a letter to the court, according to a Justice Ministry statement.

Mandelblit was responding to a petition filed by Shaul Elovitch and wife Iris — both defendants in one of the cases Netanyahu faces charges in — seeking to investigate leaks of investigative materials relating to them.

Shaul and Iris Elovitch are suspected of having engaged in an illicit quid pro quo relationship with Netanyahu, under which Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Israel’s biggest telecom firm Bezeq, ensured favorable coverage of Netanyahu by Bezeq’s Walla news site in exchange for regulatory decisions benefiting the company. The case, known as Case 4000, is one of three in which Netanyahu faces criminal charges.

At a High Court of Justice hearing on the petition earlier this month, Hayut said that leaks to the media from the cases against Netanyahu were a worrying phenomenon that damage the accused as well as the prosecution, eroding public trust in the system.

Chief Justice Esther Hayut, at the Supreme Court on May 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“These are not rare events,” she noted. Leaks of details from the police investigations into Netanyahu’s affairs and from prosecutors’ subsequent deliberations as they weighed pressing charges against the premier were exceedingly common, leading to complaints from Netanyahu, she said.

Hayut specifically criticized Mandelblit for failing to order a probe into the leaks. “Is it not time to act? To inquire?” she said. “It is grave in our eyes that nothing has been done.”

In his response on Thursday, Mandelblit said the type of investigation needed would be an overreach by his office for the alleged misdemeanors.

Explaining that “hundreds” of people have had access to the case materials in question and that there were no specific suspicions against any of them, Mandelblit said an investigation would have “a very low chance of yielding a result and would involve a significant invasion of the suspects’ privacy and other significant consequences.”

As the criminal proceedings against Netanyahu have advanced, his allies on the right have increasingly called for Mandelblit to resign and be investigated again over a 2010 affair in which he was suspected of wrongdoing but never charged.

The petition, which Netanyahu has asked to join, focuses specifically on recordings published by Channel 13 of the Elovitchs speaking with Ilan Yeshua, who was CEO of Walla.

In a recording from July 2015, Elovitch can be heard saying Netanyahu was doing many things for him, things “I wouldn’t believe… I feel I owe [him] all the time… and I’m not delivering.”

In another recording, Yeshua complains to Elovitch of being “a marionette” for Netanyahu and warns that news reports benefiting the Netanyahu family must be done “carefully” or management could face a revolt from the newsroom.

A composite image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch. (Flash90; Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

In January 2019, Netanyahu’s attorneys published a letter they sent to Mandelblit saying the leaks caused “grave harm” to their client’s basic rights.

In November of that year, Mandelblit rejected calls to investigate leaks to the media. While stressing that he viewed such leaks “severely,” Mandeblit said “there is no room to check or investigate the incidents.”

Former state attorney Shai Nitzan explained at the time that the justice system, including the Supreme Court, was wary of opening investigations into leaks to the media because it would require investigating journalists and would impact freedom of the press.

Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, has accused police, prosecutors, the left and the media of complicity in what he claims is an attempt to oust him from office.

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