Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is leaning toward indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a corruption probe involving an alleged quid pro quo deal with one of Israel’s top newspaper publishers, according to a television report Thursday.
The investigation, known as Case 2000, focuses on suspicions that Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes made an illicit agreement that would have seen the premier economically hobble rival daily Israel Hayom in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. No such agreement was ever implemented.
Despite his initial reservations over charging Netanyahu in the case, Mandelblit has recently changed his stance and adopted prosecutors’ opinion that the prime minister should be indicted, according to Channel 12 news.
The report said Netanyahu is expected to be charged with attempting to receive a bribe in the case.
Prosecutors are not expected to wrap up the investigation until next week. The goal is reportedly for Mandelblit to announce whether he intends to charge Netanyahu, pending a hearing, by the end of the month or early March at the latest in one or all three of the corruption cases against him. Israel’s elections will be held on April 9 and Mandelblit does not want to make his announcement in the final month before polling day, the TV report said.
“It appears the attorney general has surrendered to the pressure of the left and the media to file an indictment against Prime Minister Netanyahu at any cost — and before the elections,” the premier’s ruling Likud party said in response to the report.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in case 2000 — as in the two other cases against him — and pointed to his opposition to a bill that would have hampered the circulation of free newspapers, such as Israel Hayom.
The investigation is one of three cases in which police have recommended Netanyahu be indicted.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors in exchange for favors.
In Case 4000, Netanyahu 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.
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. Mandelblit has confirmed that this is the case.
Israeli law only requires that a prime minister step down if convicted, but experts have suggested that Netanyahu could have a “problem” if he seeks to stay in office after a formal indictment is 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 a situation. There is no clear legal rule regarding the prime minister.
It is believed that the hearing process, if one takes place, could last up to a year.
Insisting he has done nothing wrong, Netanyahu has argued that the media, the opposition and the police are mounting a “witch hunt” against him and relentlessly pushing a “weak” attorney general to indict him in the corruption cases.