Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will on Thursday announce his intention to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with criminal offenses in all three cases against him, including bribery in the Bezeq corruption probe, Hebrew-language media reported Wednesday.
Netanyahu, reacting to reports on Israel’s main TV broadcasts, called the apparent plans to charge him with bribery “absurd” and insisted that the prosecution’s “house of cards will soon collapse.”
According to the TV reports, Mandelblit has decided to charge the prime minister with bribery in only one case, and the lesser charge of breach of trust in two others.
If so, the announcement would mark the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges, pending a hearing.
- In Case 1000, involving suspicions that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors in exchange for favors, Mandelblit will reportedly charge Netanyahu with breach of trust — a somewhat murkily defined offense relating to an official violating the trust the public has placed in him.
- In Case 2000, involving suspicions Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth, Mandelblit will reportedly also charge the premier with breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery. The case is said to have been a contentious one in Mandelblit’s office, with many prosecution officials believing Netanyahu should be charged with bribery, while Mandelblit has allegedly considered not charging the prime minister at all. His decision now was said to be a tentative one, and could change down the road.
- In Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, he is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Bezeq-controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site. Mandelblit is reportedly going to announce he is charging Netanyahu with bribery. Elovitch too will reportedly face bribery charges.
Mandelblit’s decision will be sent to all suspects in the various cases some time on Thursday, Channel 12 reported, though it was not yet clear when. Prosecutors will contact the suspects’ legal teams and advise them of the allegations against them, after which a statement will be given to the media.
If indeed charged, Netanyahu will be notified that he can request a hearing to contest the planned indictment. The hearing process could take up to a year, during which time Netanyahu is not legally obliged to step down. It’s not clear if Netanyahu could continue to serve after being formally charged with criminal offenses.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in all three cases, and has alleged that the investigations against him are a “witch hunt” involving the left, the media and the police, relentlessly pressuring a “weak” attorney general.
Responding to the reports, a spokesman for Netanyahu called the allegations of bribery “ridiculous” and said Netanyahu “did not receive anything from Elovitch or give him anything.
“The coverage in Walla was negative and intensified ahead of elections,” the spokesman said, presumably referring to the 2015 polls.
“All decisions on Bezeq were approved by the various authorized regulators and the prime minister’s actions were untainted, as the Justice Ministry determined in an official document,” the spokesman added, referring to an alleged document Netanyahu’s defense team has called on the ministry to release.
“To indict on charges of bribery for two-and-a-half online stories is an absurd step without precedent in the annals of Israeli law. This house of cards will soon collapse,” the spokesman said.
After being notified of an impending indictment, suspects are usually provided with the full case materials against them. However, according to reports in Hebrew media, Netanyahu’s defense team has asked that case files be withheld until after elections on April 9, reasoning they could be used for political purposes and campaign propaganda.
Mandelblit has refused demands by Netanyahu’s lawyers that his announcement on whether he intends to indict Netanyahu wait until after the vote.
Netanyahu, currently in Russia, shortened the trip and was scheduled to return later Wednesday night, reportedly to prepare for the expected indictment announcement. He had been scheduled to return to Israel on Thursday.
On Sunday, the State Comptroller’s Permits Committee rejected for the second time a request by Netanyahu to fund his legal defense in the three cases via payments from wealthy associates, including his cousin.