Ahead of Netanyahu indictment, AG seeks clarifications in suspected bribery case

Ahead of Netanyahu indictment, AG seeks clarifications in suspected bribery case

Last-minute reevaluation of evidence is highly unusual at late stage of investigation, TV reports say; criminal charges expected to be lodged by early next week

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a Justice Ministry conference in Tel Aviv, on November 4, 2019. (Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a Justice Ministry conference in Tel Aviv, on November 4, 2019. (Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in recent days consulted with police for clarifications of evidence in a corruption probe against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ahead of the expected indictment of the premier next week, Israeli television reported on Sunday night.

The reexamination of the materials was described by the Kan public broadcaster and Channel 12 as highly rare at this late stage of the investigation. The case files were reopened due to claims by Netanyahu’s lawyers during the pre-indictment hearings last month relating to Case 4000, Kan said.

In Case 4000, Netanyahu is suspected of pushing regulatory decisions financially benefiting the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, Shaul Elovitch, in return for ongoing positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site. It is the most serious of the three cases against the prime minister, carrying possible charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

According to the Kan broadcaster, Mandelblit studied correspondence between associates of the prime minister and the owner and the CEO of the Walla news site. He also looked at past headlines featured on the site.

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

Netanyahu’s lawyers had argued there was no connection between the correspondence and the headlines.

The indictments against Netanyahu are expected to be announced next Sunday or Monday.

On Friday, Haaretz said Netanyahu’s Likud party has received information that Mandelblit may formally announce corruption charges against the premier as early as this Tuesday. Channel 13 news reported Thursday that a decision could be made within 10 days, namely by next Sunday.

Mandelblit served as cabinet secretary under Netanyahu and was appointed by him to the attorney general post in 2016.

In a draft charge sheet issued in February, Mandelblit outlined an indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust against the premier in Case 4000, and fraud and breach of trust in two other cases, dubbed by police, Case 1000 and Case 2000.

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrate near Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva, October 29, 2019. (Flash90)

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of illicitly receiving gifts such as champagne, cigars and jewelry valued at some NIS 700,000 ($201,000) from billionaire benefactors Arnon Milchan and James Packer, and allegedly reciprocating in Milchan’s case with various forms of assistance.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of agreeing with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. The agreement was never implemented.

In October, prosecutors and the prime minister’s legal team held several days of hearings in which Netanyahu’s attorneys sought to refute the allegations against him.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit arrives at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem for the hearing on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption cases on October 7, 2019. (Flash90)

Netanyahu denies all wrongdoing and has frequently claimed that the investigations against him are a witch hunt and a conspiracy orchestrated by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution.

The legal woes come as Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival, with the country’s unprecedented second election of the year again failing to provide him with a clear victory. In last month’s election, neither Netanyahu nor his chief challenger, Benny Gantz, secured the required parliamentary majority to form a new government. Both men have expressed support for a unity government as a way out of the deadlock, but they remain far apart on who should lead it and what smaller parties would join them. Gantz is attempting to form a coalition; his mandate to do so expires on Wednesday.

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