Attorney general rejects request to investigate leaks in Netanyahu’s probes

Justice Minister Amir Ohana and Avichai Mandelblit snipe at each other at Tel Aviv conference; decision to file fraud and breach of trust charges said made for Case 1000

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a Justice Ministry conference in Tel Aviv, November 4, 2019. (Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a Justice Ministry conference in Tel Aviv, November 4, 2019. (Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit on Monday rejected a request to investigate leaks to the media related to the corruption investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and backed his office from attack by the premier’s allies.

While stressing that he views such leaks “severely,” Mandeblit said in a letter to the attorneys, “There is no room to check or investigate the incidents.”

Justice Minister Amir Ohana, who had also called to probe the leaks and who has criticized Mandelblit and prosecutors over their handling of the Netanyahu cases, slammed the decision as harming public confidence in the law enforcement establishment.

Mandelblit and Ohana both attended a Justice Ministry event Tel Aviv University later in the day during which they sniped at each other.

Despite their differences, Ohana and Mandelblit briefly shook hands at the start of the event.

Addressing the gathering, Mandelblit referred to criticism he and prosecutors have faced from Netanyahu’s supporters — among them Ohana — over the trio of investigations the prime minister is facing. Last week Ohana, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, accused state prosecutors operating under his purview of engaging in a blind persecution of public officials they feel threaten their standing, all while being supported by a “cult” of fawning reporters.

“It is very regrettable that recently I come across statements touching on the law and enforcement authorities and they are misleading,” Mandelblit said Monday. “When they come from senior figures — the things are even more worrying.”

“I hear things that are not true, some of them shocking,” Mandelblit said.

The law enforcement establishment is not infallible, he conceded, and can be criticized, but it should be “relevant criticism.”

“Personal attacks and besmirching, absolutely not,” Mandelblit said.

Justice Minister Amir Ochana speaks at a Justice Ministry conference in Tel Aviv on November 4, 2019. (Flash90)

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan also spoke and explained that the justice system, including the Supreme Court, is wary of opening investigations into leaks to the media because it would require investigating journalists and would impact freedom of the press.

Ohana, who spoke after Mandelblit and Nitzan, said that by not investigating the leaks Mandelblit was harming the justice system.

“That is not how to get public confidence,” Ohana said. “That is not how you stop the deterioration in the image of the law enforcement establishment in recent years. There is a time and a place for everything.”

Tel Aviv District prosecutor Liat Ben Ari. (Justice Ministry)

Nitzan admitted that the lead prosecutor in the Netanyahu cases, Liat Ben Ari, should not have taken a vacation during his pre-indictment hearings, giving the impression that she had already decided on the matter.

“In retrospect, it should have been done differently,” Nitzan said. “In that we all made a mistake. Not because the hearing was compromised, but to keep up appearances.”

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan speaks at a Justice Ministry conference in Tel Aviv on November 4, 2019. (Flash90)

The prime minister is suspected of fraud and breach of trust in three cases, one of which also includes suspicion of bribery.

Pre-indictment hearings were held last month and Mandelblit is expected to make a final decision on whether or not to press charges in the cases by the end of the month or at the beginning of December.

Channel 13 television news reported Monday that senior Justice Ministry officials have finished deliberating over one of the cases, known as Case 1000, and Netanyahu is likely to face fraud and breach of trust charges.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of illicitly receiving gifts such as champagne, cigars and jewelry valued at some NIS 700,000 ($201,000) from billionaire benefactors Arnon Milchan and James Packer, and allegedly reciprocating in Milchan’s case with various forms of assistance.

According to the report, there is a “consensus” to file an indictment, but a final decision will only be made once reviews of all three cases have been completed.

Officials will now move on to begin deliberations in Case 2000, which revolves around accusations Netanyahu had discussed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes a deal in which the premier would act to hobble the circulation of a pro-Netanyahu rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

There are differences in opinion among prosecutors as to whether or not to press charges in Case 2000, the station reported.

In Case 4000, Netanyahu is suspected of pushing regulatory decisions financially benefiting the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, Shaul Elovitch, in return for ongoing positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site. Considered the most serious of the cases, Netanyahu faces possible charges of bribery, as well as fraud and breach of trust.

Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media, the left, police, and the state prosecution, designed to oust him from power.

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