'Nobody is above the law,' says man who'll decide PM's fate

Attorney general hails police for ‘thorough, professional’ probe of Netanyahu

Day after TV reports of a rift between cops and prosecutors, Avichai Mandelblit dismisses unfounded efforts to create friction, and rejects claim — made by PM — of police bias

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on February 15, 2018. (Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on February 15, 2018. (Flash90)

In his first public appearance since police published recommendations to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday dismissed reports of a rift between state prosecutors and the police, hailing the police investigators and the quality of the work they did during the year-long probe.

“These investigations were done according to the book, precisely in the way you would expect of law enforcement authorities handling a case like this — professionally, thoroughly, resourcefully, smartly, with a determination to establish the truth,” he told a conference at Tel Aviv University.

“There has been close, fruitful cooperation” between police and prosecutors, he stressed, including “dozens of joint meetings.”

“I hear efforts to suggest a rift between the police, the prosecution, and the Attorney General’s office,” he said, referring to TV reports on Wednesday that claimed state prosecutors believe the police did not have enough evidence to justify some of the charges they recommended be brought against Netanyahu on Tuesday, and that the case had been wrapped up prematurely.

Plainly, reports asserting such frictions were the unfounded product of efforts to try to manufacture divisions and frictions, said Mandelblit.

“We have worked together with full cooperation to turn over every stone and to bring the truth to light,” Mandelblit said. “I recommend being very skeptical about reports of rifts and tension between the various law enforcement bodies.”

He said there were certainly differences of opinion within and between the various authorities regarding aspects of the case, and “that is how investigations operate.” The careful weighing of different opinions helps ensure that the right decisions are ultimately taken, he said.

He vowed to ignore “all the background noise” and focus solely on establishing the truth.

He also said the police investigators had got to “all the relevant places,” including overseas, and reached “states witness agreements” where appropriate. The police’s work had been efficient and expedient, he said. He noted that further work might be required, and that this was entirely natural.

Mandelblit, the official who must now decide whether to indict Netanyahu on all or any of the fraud, breach of trust, and bribery charges recommended by the police in two major corruption investigations, also offered thinly veiled criticism of the prime minster.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, on February 14, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Responding to the recommendations, Netanyahu on Tuesday and Wednesday had slammed the police conduct of the investigations as biased and lacking in objectivity, said the allegations against him were demonstrably unfounded, and asserted that the police case was like “Swiss cheese.”

But the attorney general stressed that police investigators had acted as expected of officers of the law, and said “I completely reject the claims that some of those involved in Case 1000 and Case 2000 acted on the basis of unprofessional considerations.”

“All of the entities involved in the dealing with the investigation cases… acted and are acting loyally on behalf of the rule of law in the country,” Mandelblit said.

Noting that there is naturally great public interest in the cases due to the identity of the suspects — Netanyahu, leading businessmen, and a newspaper publisher —  the attorney general stressed that “all decisions that were taken so far, and all decisions that will be taken in the future, were based and will be based on thing but the evidence and law.”

“I don’t know at this time when, at the end of the day, the decision will taken [on whether to press charges]. I do know that the decision will only be taken on the basis of the evidence and justice. I stress once again: only the evidence will speak. Only the law will determine — no other external considerations or body will influence the decision.”

“No one is above the law and no one is immune from it,” he said emphatically.

Some media reports have estimated that Mandelblit may not be ready to make a final decision on indictments until the beginning of next year. TV reports on Wednesday night asserted that the police feel the decision should be made within eight months, whereas the prosecution has indicated it cannot come before late this year.

Police have recommended Netanyahu be indicted in both corruption investigations over which he has been repeatedly questioned, known as cases 1000 and 2000.

Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu attend a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/File)

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, totaling NIS 1 million ($282,000).

In return, Netanyahu is alleged by police to have intervened on Milchan’s behalf in matters relating to legislation, business dealings, and visa arrangements.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes, that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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