Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday rejected out of hand a request from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his pre-indictment hearing next week to be broadcast live.
In a strongly worded response, Mandelblit aide Gil Limon said Netanyahu’s request made earlier in the day was unreasonable and suggested his legal team focus on preparing a sound defense rather than trying to sway public opinion.
“The request you presented is unprecedented and without legal basis,” Limon said in a letter addressed to Netanyahu’s attorneys Yossi Ashkenazi and Amit Hadad.
“No hearing on the case of any suspect is taking place or has taken place in a public setting,” the letter said.
Netanyahu’s legal team is scheduled to meet with Mandelblit on October 2 for a long-awaited hearing at which they will try to convince the attorney general not to go ahead with plans to charge the prime minister in three separate criminal cases.
On Thursday, Netanyahu made a public appeal for the hearing to be made public and streamed live.
“It would have been better if instead of raising futile requests that you well know will not be accepted, you fulfilled the mandatory instructions for the hearing process, in particular, sending in reasoned and detailed main arguments” in the case, the letter said.
Netanyahu’s lawyers have only submitted a single page to Mandelblit ahead of the hearing instead of a comprehensive file laying out the Likud party leader’s defense.
“We regret that instead of following this directive, you thought it proper to submit a very short document and no actual content and have now found it appropriate to issue an unprecedented application knowing that it will be rejected,” the letter said.
Earlier Thursday, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition for the pre-indictment hearing to be scrapped on the grounds that the short document made a mockery of the legal process.
Responding to Mandelblit’s rejection, Netanyahu called the decision “sad,” and said years of leaks about the case had turned it into a drumhead “court martial”.
“It would have been proper to fix that situation by opening the doors of the hearing to the wider public, so they would be exposed to all of the facts and not just the serial leaks.”
In his request for the live broadcast earlier Thursday, Netanyahu said the move would counter “a deluge of biased, partial leaks,” from the investigations into him.
“The time has come for the public to hear everything. Including my side, in a complete and full manner — without mediators, without censorship and without distortions,” the prime minister said in a video posted online.
He did not say if he will be present for the hearing, which comes as lawmakers in the 22nd Knesset, who were elected last week in a vote that deepened Israel’s months-long political gridlock, are sworn into the parliament.
In February, Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu, pending the hearing, on charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one of them.
Netanyahu denies all the allegations against him and has labeled them bids by his enemies to remove him from office, which he has held for a total of over 13 years, the longest in Israeli history.
The most serious of the three investigations into the prime minister, Case 4000, involves accusations that Netanyahu advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from its Walla news site. That case includes a proposed bribery charge for both Netanyahu and Elovitch.
Another, Case 1000, involves accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors. Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust — the latter is an offense relating to an official violating the trust the public has placed in him.
A third, Case 2000, revolves around accusations Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. In this case, Mandelblit will seek to also charge the premier with breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery. Mozes underwent his own pre-indictment hearing last month.