Netanyahu supporters protest outside attorney general's home

As Netanyahu’s hearing set to begin, defense team bids to nullify charge sheet

After months of preparation, the PM’s lawyers will face a panel of the nation’s top justice officials and attempt to convince them of his innocence

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on February 2, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/ File)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on February 2, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/ File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense team will arrive at Justice Ministry offices at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning for the first session of the premier’s pre-indictment hearing process, set to take place over the coming week.

Representing the prime minister will be a 10-strong defense team led by top attorneys Ram Caspi, Amit Hadad and Yosi Ashkenazi. Facing them will be a team of around 20 state prosecution officials, led by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and Liat Ben-Ari, the lead prosecutor in the three criminal cases against Netanyahu.

During the process the prime minister’s attorneys will seek to refute the charges against him and to paint his conduct as entirely proper and within the boundaries of the law.

Prosecution officials told Channel 12 news on Tuesday they hoped to reach a final decision on whether to indict the premier by the end of the year.

In Case 4000, the most serious case faced by Netanyahu, he is accused of pushing regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, in exchange for positive coverage from its Walla news site. That case includes a proposed bribery charge for both Netanyahu and Elovitch.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing in Case 4000, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

Case 4000 is first in line for the hearing, and will be discussed on Wednesday and Thursday.

According to Hebrew media reports, the defense team will assert that Netanyahu acted entirely according to the opinions and directives of government professionals; they will deny any give-and-take relations with Elovitch; they will stress that all politicians have complex relations with the media; they will claim state’s witnesses Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz were pressured unreasonably to testify against Netanyahu.

Cases 1000 and 2000 will be discussed on Sunday and Monday.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is alleged to have received tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from Arnon Milchan, an Israeli Hollywood producer, and James Packer, an Australian casino mogul. Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust.

Netanyahu’s attorneys will insist the gifts were legitimate as it is permissible to receive gifts from friends. They will also assert the value of the gifts is much lower than the charges suggest.

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. In this case, Mandelblit will seek to charge the premier with breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery. Mozes underwent his own pre-indictment hearing last month.

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan speaks during a farewell ceremony for outgoing police chief Roni Alsheich, in Beit Shemesh, on November 29, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The prime minister’s team will insist the conversations between Netanyahu and Moses — of which prosecutors possess hours’ worth of recordings — were nothing more than talk, and that Netanyahu had never intended to act on them.

Full text: The criminal allegations against Netanyahu, as set out by Israel’s AG

Related: The allegations against Netanyahu

The hearing was stretched this week from its original planned two days on October 2-3 to a total expected four days over the coming week, with proceedings coming to an end by Yom Kippur, next Tuesday.

Netanyahu’s lawyers had filed the request Thursday, claiming they need more time to present all of their arguments in the prime minister’s defense. That was the same day that Netanyahu had made a public appeal that the pre-indictment hearings be broadcast live, a request that Mandelblit rejected as “futile” and “without legal basis.”

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.

Publisher and owner of Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper Arnon ‘Noni’ Mozes arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod on January 17, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

On 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 of a live hearing, Netanyahu called the decision “sad,” and said years of leaks about the case had turned it into a drumhead “court martial.”

He did not say if he would be present for the hearing.

In February, Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu pending the hearing process.

Netanyahu denies all the allegations against him and claims they constitute a witch hunt by his political opposition, media, police and state prosecutors to remove him from office, which he has held for a total of over 13 years, the longest in the state’s history.

On Tuesday night around 300 Netanyahu supporters demonstrated outside Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva.

Activists chanted slogans in support of the prime minister and claimed the cases against him were a plot by justice officials and the media — a line that has been pushed by the prime minister himself.

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