Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit reportedly does not agree with police that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be tried for bribery in one of the three corruption cases against him, instead leaning toward a breach of trust charge.
Police have recommended that Netanyahu face bribery charges in all of the cases against him, including so-called Case 1000. But Channel 10 news reported Sunday that Mandeblit had told judicial officials in private conversations that he is mulling the lesser charge for that case.
Mandelblit’s decisions on whether to press charges against Netanyahu, and if so, what charges, could have a profound influence on the elections in April, and on his ability to continue to lead the country. Netanyahu has vowed to not step down even if he is indicted.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Case 4000 is considered by the State Prosecutor’s Office to be the most serious, according to television reports. In that case, 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.
Having received the paperwork from the State Prosecutor, Mandelblit must now decide whether to bring the cases to trial.
Netanyahu, who has been in office since 2009, has denied wrongdoing and portrays the cases as part of a conspiracy against him that encompasses the left, the media, and law enforcement officials.
Also on Sunday, the attorney general’s office rejected a request to delay proceedings in the suspected graft cases against Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, made over claims that a senior police officer who was involved in the probes had a personal vendetta against the Netanyahus.
Attorneys for the Netanyahus wrote to Mandelblit in July, claiming Maj. Gen. Roni Rittman, who served as head of the Lahav 433 anti-fraud unit, believed the Netanyahus were behind sexual assault allegations that forced his resignation earlier this year, and that his investigation was thus tainted.
Responding to the attorneys in a letter, Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber admitted that Rittman did mention the possibility of a connection between the Netanyahus and the harassment case against him, but noted that it was only one of “other claims [he made] relating to his suspension and the reasons for opening said investigation.”
“After examining the matter, our position is to reject the argument that the remarks made by retired Maj. Gen. Rittman as part of his interrogation by the Police Internal Investigations Department indicate a flaw in the investigations of the prime minister and his wife.”
Zilber noted that rather than Rittman having full control over the Netanyahu probes, many senior police officials were involved in every step of the investigations.
“One cannot accept the claim that the investigations and decisions taken in the framework of the proceedings against the Netanyahus were hampered or that they were flawed as a result of the involvement of Maj. Gen. Rittman,” the letter said.
Rittman stepped down in February amid allegations that he sexually harassed two female subordinates in 2011. He denied the claims, and suggested they were part of a conspiracy to bring him down.