Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is set to begin reviewing materials to decide on possible charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, embarking on the most high-stakes stage yet of a several-year legal entanglement that could upend the country’s political system.
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan said Wednesday he was wrapping up recommendations on three cases against Netanyahu for Mandelblit, which reportedly include recommendations to indict the premier on bribery charges over an affair in which he is accused of kicking back regulatory favors in exchange for positive media coverage.
Mandelblit is expected to convene his legal team to begin working on the hundreds of pages of testimony and other evidence in the three cases on Monday, the Ynet news website reported.
Of the cases Netanyahu is suspected of illegal activity in, the one known as Case 4000 is considered by the State Prosecutor’s Office to be the most serious, according to Israeli television reports.
In that case, Netanyahu is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.
The prosecutor’s office told Mandeblit the allegations constituted “a clear case of bribery,” according to Israel’s Hadashot TV news. Recommendations for bribery charges were also made in the cases known as 1000 and 2000, though those were seen as less clear-cut, according to the report.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily newspaper, the Sheldon Adelson-backed freebie Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
According to Nitzan, the full case file on Netanyahu extends to some 800 pages.
It’s not clear how long it will take Mandeblit to make a decision on whether to charge Netanyahu in any of the cases. According to Hadashot, the attorney general’s office aims to reach a decision on whether to press charges in the next few months, and certainly “well before Passover” which begins in mid-April.
On Thursday, Mandelblit said that “we will work quickly, but not at the expense of the investigation. We will not pursue any one person, only justice.”
“I accompanied the process closely. The investigation was carried out with determination and professionalism,” Mandelblit said.
Also unknown is whether Netanyahu would be forced to step down if charged with bribery or lesser charges such as breach of trust. However, any indictment is likely to cast a dark shadow over elections, which must be held by November 2019.
On Saturday, former state prosecutor Moshe Lador said Netanyahu should not serve while under a cloud of suspicion.
“It is unthinkable that the prime minister should be…on the one hand handling matters of public interest and on the other handling his personal affairs,” Lador said at a cultural event in Mevasseret Zion, outside Jerusalem. “His personal considerations are influencing matters of security and diplomacy. All of his decisions are affected by his interest to emerge from the probes in one piece.”
Netanyahu, who has been in office since 2009, has denied wrongdoing and portrayed the cases as a witch hunt by the media, the law enforcement community and others.
Mandelblit, who formerly served as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, earlier this month strongly protested the premier’s assertions, saying “it’s completely untrue” and expressing full support for police.
He has also rejected charges from critics of the prime minister that he has dragged his feet on the investigation.
Police have recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery in Cases 1000, 2000, and 4000. Last month it was reported that Tax and Finance Department head Liat Ben Ari, after reviewing police evidence, had made the same recommendation on Cases 1000 and 2000. According to Ynet, she also confirmed the bribery suspicions in case 4000.
In a blistering accusation, police said in their recommendation that “the prime minister and his associates intervened in a blatant and ongoing manner, and sometimes even daily, in the content published by the Walla news website, and also sought to influence the appointment of senior officials (editors and reporters) via their contacts with Shaul and Iris Elovitch,” the Bezeq owner’s wife.