Deputy state attorney: Netanyahu plea deal without ‘moral turpitude’ inconceivable

Shlomo Lamberger’s public remarks are first from officials at State Attorney’s Office on swirling rumors of potential agreement between ex-premier and AG

Deputy State Attorney Shlomo Lamberger (right) speaks at a conference held by the Israel Bar Association, on January 20, 2022. (Screenshot/Ynet)
Deputy State Attorney Shlomo Lamberger (right) speaks at a conference held by the Israel Bar Association, on January 20, 2022. (Screenshot/Ynet)

Deputy State Attorney Shlomo Lamberger said Thursday it would be “inconceivable” for a plea deal with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu not to include a clause of “moral turpitude” — which would bar the former prime minister from public office for seven years.

“Anyone who understands moral turpitude understands that with such acts it is inconceivable there isn’t moral turpitude,” Lamberger told a conference held by the Israel Bar Association, in reference to the charges against Netanyahu in his graft trial.

The comments were the first public remarks by a senior justice official about the prospect of a plea deal in Netanyahu’s trial, rumors of which have been swirling in recent days.

According to an unsourced television report Thursday, there has been no contact between Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Netanyahu’s lawyers since a Wednesday phone call, with talks on a potential plea bargain appearing to have stalled.

Channel 13 claimed both sides now believe that there will not be an agreement before Mandelblit steps down as attorney general at the end of the month.

Reports have indicated that the gaps between the sides appeared to be too wide to be bridged in the short time left in Mandelblit’s tenure — seen as a key window for securing a deal.

(Left) Benjamin Netanyahu during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset, on January 5, 2022; (Right) Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference in Tel Aviv, on June 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel; Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

According to the network, State Attorney Amit Aisman — who will be filling in the attorney general post until a permanent candidate is selected — said he would not touch the plea deal negotiations at all.

It is not yet clear when a new permanent attorney general will be appointed, but the process is likely to last at least a few weeks into February.

Channel 13 on Wednesday said that the latest offer for a deal sent to Netanyahu’s attorneys includes a “moral turpitude” clause. The deal drawn up by Mandelblit and prosecutors would also require the opposition leader to perform seven to nine months of community service.

According to the report, Mandelblit had moved away from an earlier idea of allowing the trial judges to rule on the question of the moral turpitude clause, rather than having it be an integral part of the deal, and wants it to be agreed to upfront. Netanyahu has been reported to be wary of doing so in case the negotiations subsequently break down.

The defense attorneys told the attorney general’s office in a Wednesday phone conversation that they were willing to accept a moral turpitude clause as an ultimate result, but not as a starting point in negotiations, Channel 13 said.

Demonstrators protest against a planned plea deal with Benjamin Netanyahu near the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, in Petah Tikva, on January 15, 2022. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

Numerous reports over the past week in Hebrew media outlets had claimed Netanyahu was nearing a deal with Mandelblit, citing sources close to both sides. But in recent days there have been growing signs of trouble in the talks.

The reports have listed Mandelblit’s conditions for an agreement as follows: Netanyahu admits to fraud and breach of trust in cases 1000 and 4000; he accepts the designation of moral turpitude; he will be sentenced to seven to nine months of community service; and he admits to having instructed former Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber to provide benefits to the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq media company, Shaul Elovitch — the main accusation against the former premier in case 4000.

Netanyahu is on trial in three separate graft cases: for fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000. Under the reported potential deal, the bribery charge in Case 4000 would be dropped, and Case 2000 would be closed altogether.

There have been no formal confirmations of an emerging deal from either side, and there are numerous obstacles that could slow or torpedo an agreement.

Thus far, the main reported stumbling block to reaching a deal has been Mandelblit’s reported insistence on including the “moral turpitude” clause. But a Channel 12 report on Wednesday afternoon said the opposition leader and his lawyers also fear that were he to sign a plea deal admitting to fraud and breach of trust, the judges could decide to impose a prison term rather than the community service punishment sought in the deal.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, surrounded by Likud lawmakers, gives a televised statement before the start of his corruption trial at the Jerusalem District Court, on May 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to analysts, the belief that fraud and breach of trust is a light charge is a misconception. Ex-mayor of Bat Yam Shlomo Lahiani, ex-MK Stas Misezhnikov, and Bank Hapoalim’s former director Danny Dankner were all jailed in plea bargains that saw them admit to fraud and breach of trust.

In Netanyahu’s case, the sides have reportedly agreed that he will not see prison time for those same charges.

Netanyahu denies all allegations against him, and claims the charges were fabricated by a biased police force and state prosecution service, overseen by a weak attorney general, in league with political opponents and the leftist media.

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