At Likud festival, Netanyahu allies rip investigators probing him for corruption

Culture Minister Regev claims associates of attorney general are pushing him to announce his intention to indict PM ahead of elections

Culture Minister Miri Regev speaks at the annual Likudiada event in Eilat on January 10, 2018. (Flash90)
Culture Minister Miri Regev speaks at the annual Likudiada event in Eilat on January 10, 2018. (Flash90)

Political allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed investigators Friday over their handling of corruption probes involving the premier, as Likud lawmakers and activists attended an annual gathering of the party faithful.

Netanyahu, who police have recommended be charged in three separate criminal cases, has upped his criticism of the investigations since calling early Knesset elections for April 9, and says Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit should not summon him for a pre-indictment hearing before then since it could not be wrapped up by election day.

While Mandelblit has largely been spared from direct criticism by Netanyahu and fellow Likud lawmakers, they have claimed that the attorney general is being pressured by the media and members of the legal establishment to announce his intention to indict the prime minister pending a hearing before elections.

“I’ve know Mandelblit for many years, including in the army. He is a fair and honest man, but around him are a group of people who I’d say are ‘complicated’ and will press him until the end to say something concerning Netanyahu,” Culture Minister Miri Regev, a vocal Netanyahu supporter, said on the sidelines of the “Leumiada” gathering in Eilat.

The event, previously called the “Likudiada,” had its name changed this year to avoid being fined for contravening election campaign laws.

“[Mandelblit] should say we’ll start and finish [a hearing] before the elections or finish everything afterwards, because otherwise it is in fact an intervention by the attorney general in an election,” she added.

Likud MK Oren Hazan (C) and Culture Minister Miri Regev (R) at the annual ‘Leumiada’ in the southern Israeli city of Eilat on January 10, 2018. (Flash90)

MK Amir Ohana, another Netanyahu ally, also struck out at legal authorities over the Netanyahu investigations and charged they were usurping the will of the Israeli voters.

“This is what happens when elements who are chosen by the public and don’t have to ask for its trust once every four years decide to take for themselves the reins of the state,” he was quoted saying by the Ynet news site.

Likud MK Oren Hazan takes part in the annual ‘Likudiada’ in the southern Israeli city of Eilat on January 10, 2018. (Flash90)

Echoing Regev and Ohana, MK Oren Hazan appealed to Mandelblit: “Don’t interfere with the people in the elections.”

Netanyahu is suspected of bribery in three cases, one of which involves gifts from wealthy associates, with the other two involving potential quid pro quo deals for regulatory favors in exchange for positive media coverage. Police have recommended charges in all three.

Netanyahu has long accused police, the media and the political left of pushing a conspiracy against him, and has denied any wrongdoing.

He has been vocal in recent days in his opposition to Mandelblit’s reported intention to announce his decision on whether to summon the prime minister for a pre-indictment hearing before the April elections.

In a live statement on prime time television Monday evening, Netanyahu demanded that police allow him to confront his former aides and colleagues who have reportedly provided incriminating evidence in the three graft cases in which he is a suspect.

Legal officials, pundits and opposition leaders have dismissed his demand, saying that a confrontation between a suspect and witnesses during a police probe is an investigation tool that can — but doesn’t have to — be used by police, and isn’t a right to be demanded by the suspect. Suspects can confront the witnesses against them in court during cross-examination.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

On Wednesday, a senior source close to the investigations pushed back against Netanyahu’s claim that he was denied a request to confront his accusers.

Speaking with Hadashot TV news, the unnamed source confirmed that Netanyahu twice requested to hold a confrontation with state witnesses, but added that he then said needed to check with his lawyers first.

The source said that Netanyahu never got back to them with a final response, even though they told him they could make a confrontation happen.

Netanyahu lawyers’ rejected the Hadashot report later Wednesday night, saying it was an attempt to pass the blame onto him.

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