Election over, attorney general pushes ahead on Netanyahu indictment hearings

Election over, attorney general pushes ahead on Netanyahu indictment hearings

Prime minister’s attorneys to receive evidence against him on Thursday as they prepare to convince Mandelblit not to charge him with corruption

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, in a composite photo. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, in a composite photo. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorneys will receive evidence in the corruption cases against him on Thursday as they prepare for pre-indictment hearings slated to take place within the next three months.

Netanyahu is a suspect in three criminal probes, dubbed by police cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, in which investigators have recommended graft indictments.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced in February that he intended to indict Netanyahu in all three cases, pending a hearing.

Citing fears of leaks to the press of the evidence against Netanyahu in the middle of a hard-fought election campaign, the prime minister’s attorneys asked Mandelblit to freeze the hearing process and not release to them the evidence in the case, even at the cost of delaying their preparations for the pre-indictment hearings.

With the election over, Netanyahu’s attorneys were summoned by Mandelblit’s office to meet at the Justice Ministry on Thursday to receive the prosecutors’ case files so they can prepare their client’s defense.

Mandelblit has said the hearings will be held within three months of election day.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, walks through the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on April 8, 2019, a day ahead of Israel’s parliamentary elections. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and claims the investigations are part of efforts by the media and Israeli left to remove him from power, with the support of a dishonest police investigating team overseen by a “weak” attorney general.

In Case 1000, involving accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors, Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust.

In Case 2000, involving accusations Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth, Mandelblit will seek to also charge the premier with fraud and breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery.

In Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, Netanyahu is accused of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site. In that case, Mandelblit announced he intends to charge both Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribery.

New suspicions have also arisen regarding a possible conflict of interest related to unreported business dealings possibly tied to a German shipbuilder from which Israel buys submarines. The purchases have been investigated as the so-called “Case 3000,” which snared several of Netanyahu’s close associates but in which Netanyahu is not currently a suspect.

Speculation has swirled that Netanyahu may use his newfound political strength after Tuesday’s election to advance legislation that would immunize him from prosecution as long as he remains prime minister. He is reported to be considering conditioning entry to his new government on a potential coalition party’s support for the so-called “French law” sheltering a sitting prime minister from prosecution. Netanyahu has publicly given mixed signals about whether he will seek such legislation.

Illustrative: Israelis protest against corruption, urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign, in Tel Aviv on February 16, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Likud MK David Bitan, who is himself under investigation, previously advanced a bill to shield sitting prime ministers from indictments for the duration of their term in office.

MK Bezalel Smotrich, number two in the new Union of Right-Wing Parties, proposed a bill in early March that would give lawmakers increased powers to block charges against sitting Knesset members, including the prime minister.

Netanyahu has said he has hitherto rejected such efforts to protect him through legislation, telling Channel 12 in late March that he would be saved from prosecution by “the facts themselves.”

“Everything will be thrown out in the hearing. I still haven’t said a word in my defense, a single word … It’s all poppycock,” he said.

While a sitting Israeli prime minister has never been this close to indictment before, Netanyahu is not obligated by law to resign until he is convicted. During his hearing, Netanyahu can plead his case before formal charges are filed.

According to an existing law, Knesset members already have the power to grant immunity to one of their number if a majority of lawmakers are convinced the defendant has been treated unfairly and the charges are discriminatory or were filed in bad faith.

“The Knesset can give him immunity if it is persuaded that he is the victim of a vendetta — as he believes is the case,” jurist Mordechai Kremnitzer told The Times of Israel late last year.

read more: