As graft probes wrap up, Netanyahu launches major overhaul of defense team

As graft probes wrap up, Netanyahu launches major overhaul of defense team

Amid reports that prosecutors believe there is sufficient evidence to indict PM in 2 cases, he taps prominent attorney Navot Tel-Zur as chief counsel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during the dedication of Czech House in Jerusalem on November 27, 2018). (Gali Tibbon/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during the dedication of Czech House in Jerusalem on November 27, 2018). (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided on a major overhaul of his defense team in a series of graft investigations, replacing his lead counsel, as prosecutors and the attorney general decide whether to indict him.

Hadashot TV news analysts speculated Thursday that the changes were a sign that the premier believes his corruption cases will soon be brought to court.

Going forward, Netanyahu will be represented by attorney Navot Tel-Zur, an experienced defender of public figures in graft probes, including former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, the report said.

Former Tel Aviv District Court judge Oded Mudrick is also joining the team as an adviser. Mudrick is a longtime colleague of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who will be making the final decision on whether to indict Netanyahu, having served with him in the past as a judge in the Israel Defense Force’s internal justice system.

Amit Hadad, who has been leading Netanyahu’s defense team, will remain on board in a reduced capacity.

Navot Tel-Zur at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 9, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The appointments come over a month after the death of Yaakov Weinroth, who was one of Israel’s most prominent lawyers and was one of those representing Netanyahu in the corruption probes.

Earlier this week, Israeli television reported that the state prosecutor appointed to oversee and review the corruption allegations against Netanyahu believes there is sufficient evidence to charge him in at least two of three cases against him.

The head of the State Prosecution’s Tax and Finance Department, Liat Ben Ari, has presented her final recommendations in Cases 1000 and 2000 to State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, Channel 10 reported Sunday.

Among the conclusions, the report said, was a recommendation to try Netanyahu on corruption charges in Case 1000, in which the prime minister 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. Ben Ari maintained there was sufficient evidence to lodge an indictment, the TV report said, though it did not elaborate on which charges she had recommended Netanyahu face.

A day later, the network reported that Ben Ari believes there is enough evidence to indict both Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes for bribery in Case 2000.

Publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Arnon ‘Noni’ Mozes arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod, January 15, 2017. (Koko/Flash90)

The case involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily newspaper, the Sheldon Adelson-backed freebie Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Under the alleged agreement between Mozes and Netanyahu, which was not implemented, the prime minister said he would advance measures to curb the circulation of Israel Hayom if Mozes instructed his reporters and op-ed writers to soften their often negative stance toward him.

Police in February recommended Netanyahu be indicted in both cases.

In those recommendations, police said that starting in 2009, “Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes held conversations and personal meetings during which they discussed helping each other as a quid pro quo to advance their respective interests.”

They alleged that Netanyahu offered his support for possible measures including closing Israel Hayom, helping to shrink the newspaper’s circulation numbers, and nixing the free daily’s weekend edition. Furthermore, the investigation revealed “that the sides took actual active steps in advancing each other’s interests in continuation of the understandings reached between them, or at least presented to each other as if they had acted that way.”

In addition, “The prime minister acted as an agent for the Yedioth Ahronoth publisher with other business people in the purchase of Yedioth Ahronoth, while he was communications minister,” police said.

Ben Ari’s recommendations will now be reviewed by State Attorney Shai Nitzan, who will then present a final recommendation to Attorney General Mandelblit, before the latter decides whether to press charges against the prime minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a July 2015 cabinet meeting, when Mandelblit was serving as cabinet secretary. (Emil Salman/Pool)

Mandelblit has already announced, however, that a final decision on indictments in the two cases will only be made together with the findings of another ongoing investigation, Case 4000.

In that case, Netanyahu is suspected of advancing regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister 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.

That probe has been reopened, a report by the Kan public broadcaster said last week, due to new information. The development is expected to delay any decision by prosecutors on filing indictments against the premier.

Netanyahu has been questioned 12 times over the various graft suspicions, most recently in August in the Case 4000 investigation.

Once police finish their work in that investigation, they will submit their findings and recommendations to prosecutors, who will then hand over their conclusions to the attorney general.

Netanyahu has long denied any wrongdoing in all three cases.

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