Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit defended the corruption investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday, denying that they could be considered “persecution,” and telling lawmakers it was not certain the probes would lead to an indictment even though police have recommended the premier charged.
Summoned by the Constitution Law and Justice Committee to discuss the various cases involving the prime minister and his wife, Mandelblit explained why the investigations were taking so long, and implied that this was due in part to the testimony from former top Netanyahu adviser turned state’s witness Nir Hefetz.
“A lot has happened since we opened the investigation,” he said. “The cases are at a very advanced stage.”
He explained that it was premature to say whether there would be an indictment against the prime minister in any of the investigations against him.
“To those who are pressuring to say there will be an indictment, I say ‘wait.’ Suspects also have rights,” Mandelblit said. “Also, to those who say that it is persecution, I say be careful with your words.”
Netanyahu himself has lashed out against investigators, accusing them of engaging in a conspiracy to bring him down that includes encouraging false testimony and illegally pressuring witnesses,
Answering criticism from both Netanyahu supporters and detractors that the prosecution is taking too long to process the probes, Mandelblit stressed that investigations of this complexity take time.
“About four months ago, the police gave their recommendations in cases 1000 and 2000,” he said. “The material was transferred to the prosecution which began going through it… There is a lack of understanding as to how things work.”
Case 1000, the first of four separate probes in which Netanyahu is either a criminal suspect or closely linked to other suspects, was first opened in January 2017.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts of over NIS 1 million from billionaire benefactors. Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to hamstring a rival paper in exchange for positive coverage.
The attorney general, who is responsible for bringing charges against public officials, said that police recommendations to indict Netanyahu on bribery charges in both cases would “absolutely not” necessarily lead to indictments.
Police are also investigating an additional case, known as Case 4000, which involves suspicions that Netanyahu, who has also served as communications minister for several years over his past two terms, advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for flattering coverage of the Netanyahus from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.
Mandelblit explained that the investigation into this case had caused the previous cases to be reexamined.
“We need to look generally at all the cases. There is a connection between them and therefore we must look at the broad picture,” he said. “There are also witnesses in common and in order to understand the evidence they must be viewed as one piece.”
He also defended the use of state`s witnesses in the probes, a tactic that Netanyahu has said involves his former confidants being put under “intense pressure and told to lie.”
“In the name of clarifying the truth and the public interest in these cases, a state’s witness is an important tool,” Mandelblit said. “I am aware of attempts at delegitimization with irrelevant and political goals. Every attempt like this is an attempt to prevent clarifying the truth. Our task is to ensure the rule of law and in the investigation we use every necessary tool.”
Netanyahu has also been questioned in Case 3000, in which state officials, including several people close to the prime minister, are suspected of having been paid bribes to influence a decision to purchase four patrol boats and three Dolphin-class submarines costing a total of 2 billion euros from German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp, despite opposition to the deal by the Defense Ministry.
Mandelblit stressed that the prime minister, who was not questioned under caution, is not a suspect in that case.
“The matter speaks for itself,” he said. “Anyone who was interrogated under caution is a suspect. Anyone who was not interrogated under caution is not a suspect.”
The attorney general also spoke of reports last week that despite her indictment for alleged misuse of some $100,000 in state funds between 2010 and 2013, lawyers for the prime minister’s wife were trying to reach a deal to avoid going to trial.
“I don’t know of any contacts or discussions for any kind of deal after the indictment was served,” Mandelblit said. “We served the indictment because in our opinion there is a reasonable chance of a conviction. The matter will be decided in court.”
The Netanyahus deny any wrongdoing in any of the cases under investigation.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.