Attorney general won’t decide on Netanyahu charges before election — reports

Legal officials say Avichai Mandelblit doesn’t want to be seen as meddling in national vote; Justice Ministry denies ‘speculative’ reports, says review of cases continues apace

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a State Control committee meeting in the Knesset on December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a State Control committee meeting in the Knesset on December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Law enforcement officials on Monday indicated that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will wait until after elections to announce his decision on whether to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three corruption cases, potentially saving the premier from criminal charges that could sink his re-election hopes.

The Justice Ministry denied reports carried in Hebrew-language media that specified the decision would be delayed, saying Mandeblit’s “orderly and professional” review of the Netanyahu investigations would continue apace, though no final date was set for a decision.

Coalition leaders on Monday announced they would dissolve the government and go to the polls in four months’ time, on April 9. The announcement came as Mandelblit began reviewing evidence in three probes in which police have recommended criminal charges against the premier.

He has not said how long it will take to review the materials, but reports had indicated he was aiming to announce a decision on whether to indict the prime minister by mid-April at latest.

The legal officials, who spoke to Hebrew media on condition on anonymity, said Mandelblit doesn’t want to be perceived as trying to influence the outcome of the vote. As a result, the attorney general’s ruling on whether to press charges against the prime minister will likely be delayed until after the national polls, according to Channel 10.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting in the Kneeset in Jerusalem on December 17, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Justice Ministry, in a statement later on Monday, firmly denied any decision to delay had been taken.

“The work on the investigation files related to the prime minister is proceeding as planned,” the ministry said. “This is an orderly and professional process that is independent of political events.”

The ministry also referred to its internal guidelines on prosecuting public officials who are up for reelection, which generally advises prosecutors to continue their legal proceedings — but operate with caution.

“As a rule, there is no room to delay dealing with cases against public officials or candidates, who have previously been subject to investigation or police complaint, for the purpose of deciding on whether to lodge an indictment,” the guidelines said. “However, the treatment [of the cases] will take into consideration the necessary caution, and, as needed, the matter will be brought to the attorney general or state prosecutor [for a decision.]”

The Justice Ministry said reports the attorney general would delay his decision are “speculative, due to the fact that the date on which he will finish working on the cases is still unknown.”

From the opposition, Meretz party leader Tamar Zandberg told Hadashot news that Mandelblit should work around the clock and announce a decision on the Netanyahu cases before the elections.

Mandelblit, Netanyahu’s former cabinet secretary, this week began reviewing the 800-page case file, after years of police investigations and a review by the state prosecutor.

Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Avichai Mandelblit at a cabinet meeting on January 4, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/Flash90)

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan said last week he was wrapping up recommendations on the 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.

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