Attorney general announces preliminary probe of Netanyahu

Prime minister dismisses ‘baseless’ inquiry, which reportedly centers on suspicions of money laundering

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, confers with then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on December 20, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, confers with then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on December 20, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit acknowledged ordering a probe into allegations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but rejected “inaccurate” media reports about the nature of the suspicions. Netanyahu denied any wrongdoing and predicted the probe would be closed.

According to reports, the attorney general is examining suspicions of money laundering involving the prime minister and an unnamed senior Justice Ministry official, among others.

In a measured but laconic statement Sunday, Israel’s top law enforcement officer hinted that he may make the details of the allegations public — but only when doing so would not undermine the probe.

“In the wake of information that was received on matters relating to the prime minister, among others, and that was presented to the attorney general by the Investigations and Intelligence Department of the police, the attorney general has held a number of discussions together with the state attorney and other senior officials in the Justice Ministry and the police Investigations and Intelligence Department,” the statement read.

“At the conclusion [of the discussions], the attorney general decided to order a probe into the matter,” it added. “It is to be emphasized that this is a probe only, and no criminal investigation has been opened related to the prime minister. In recent days, many reports have been published in the media that do not accurately reflect, to put it mildly, the facts surrounding the probe.”

Mandelblit’s statement said he “is conscious of the importance of making the facts available to the public. The issue [of publicizing details of the probe] is weighed regularly, subject to the needs of the probe.”

Netanyahu vehemently denied any wrongdoing in a terse statement Sunday: “As with all the previous instances, when allegations were made against the prime minister that turned out to be baseless, nothing will come of this — because there’s nothing there.”

On Saturday, Channel 2 reported that Mandelblit and police investigations chief Meni Yitzhaki were preparing to issue a statement on the allegations, which the news channel said were linked to the transfer of “large sums” of money to one of Netanyahu’s family members “for non-political purposes.”

A senior law enforcement official said police believed they had enough evidence to take the investigation public, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

The vague media reports sparked widespread condemnation from the opposition over the weekend, complete with warnings of new elections in the event he should be forced to step down as prime minister.

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog said that an alternative coalition “can be arranged” in the current Knesset if such a need should arise, though he cautioned that “authorities must [first] do their work” investigating the allegations.

On Saturday, Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Galon called on Netanyahu to resign over the “dubious and corrupt norms the prime minister presents to the public.”

“Every day, we hear of new cases, and these are not the norms that a prime minister should be instilling in the public. As far as I am concerned, he should have already resigned,” she told Channel 10 in an interview.

In a separate case, Mandelblit last month reportedly instructed the state prosecution to look into allegations that Netanyahu accepted 1 million euros (about $1.1 million) in 2009 from convicted French fraudster Arnaud Mimran.

In May, Israel’s state comptroller issued a report critical of the financial aspects of Netanyahu’s foreign trips from 2003 to 2005, when he served as finance minister.

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