'It's unbelievable anyone believes this nonsense'

Former state prosecutor blasts ‘conspiracy theories’ after attacks from Likud

Shai Nitzan dismisses claims from PM’s allies that he coerced AG into indicting Netanyahu, after release of old calls in which AG bashes him over handling of past military scandal

Former state attorney Shai Nitzan in an interview with Channel 12 news, October 16, 2020. (Screenshot/Channel 12)
Former state attorney Shai Nitzan in an interview with Channel 12 news, October 16, 2020. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

Shai Nitzan responded on Friday to the release of old recordings in which Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is heard bashing the former state attorney for failing to clear him of wrongdoing in an old scandal.

Nitzan rejected unfounded allegations that he had blackmailed Mandelblit into charging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with corruption, repeatedly calling the accusations “baseless” and “unrealistic,” in interviews with channels 12 and 13 in his first public appearances since the release of the recordings.

In the tapes, which date to 2015 and 2016, Mandelblit calls Nitzan a “jerk” for failing to clear him of wrongdoing in the 2010 Harpaz affair. The conversations took place between Mandelblit, who was then cabinet secretary, and the head of the Israel Bar Association at the time, Efi Nave.

In the Harpaz affair, Mandelblit, who at the time was military advocate general, the army’s top legal officer, was briefly suspected of having helped military brass cover up a smear campaign. He was later cleared by the High Court of Justice.

The release of the recordings caused an uproar in Netanyahu’s Likud party, with lawmakers claiming it proved Nitzan had Mandelblit by the throat, and asserting he had forced the attorney general to indict Netanyahu in his three criminal cases — a claim Mandelblit vociferously rejected.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and outgoing state prosecutor Shai Nitzan attend a farewell ceremony held for Nitzan in Jerusalem, on December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In the Friday interview with Channel 12, which released the old recordings earlier in the week, Nitzan said the claims against him were absurd and unfounded and that there was no basis in the claims that the charges against Netanyahu were part of a left-wing agenda he advanced along with Mandelblit and former Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheich, particularly given the backgrounds of the three.

“These unfounded theories, that we’re all extreme leftists, it’s not like I just landed here from outer space,” Nitzan said.

Then-police commissioner Roni Alsheich (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony for Alsheich at the start of his term, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Everyone knows where Mandelblit comes from. All of a sudden, we all became radical leftists? Roni Alsheich, who lived in [West Bank settlements] for part of his life? Mandelblit, who wears a black kippah? Me, who graduated from a yeshiva? We’re all radical leftists? And we all got together to take down Prime Minister Netanyahu? It is all so baseless. It’s simply unbelievable that anyone believes this nonsense,” Nitzan said.

Mandelblit indicted the premier on corruption charges earlier this year, and Nitzan was another key figure in the case. As Israel’s top cop, Alsheich oversaw the police investigations into Netanyahu.

All three have been targets of the premier and his allies as they try to discredit the charges against Netanyahu, and all were appointed to the posts under Netanyahu’s watch as prime minister.

In further evidence of the lack of basis to the claims, Nitzan highlighted Mandelblit’s announcement on Thursday that he won’t order a formal investigation into Netanyahu over his stock dealings or re-open the so-called submarine affair that embroiled some of the premier’s associates.

“This is more proof that it is baseless to say: ‘If it’s Bibi, they will investigate and if it’s not, they won’t’,” Nitzan said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

“It only proves that we work according to the evidence. What Mandelblit is going through now, happened to me for a long time while the case against Netanyahu was with the police. It’s a strange situation. We are public servants who are doing our job. No one can prove there are other considerations here,” Nitzan said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with then-Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, September 21, 2014. (AP/Menahem Kahana, Pool)

Without directly mentioning Netanyahu or his Likud allies, he said, “People, who are leaders of the public, are peddling conspiracy theories.”

Nitzan dismissed the calls between Mandelblit and Nave as a private conversation between close friends that did not indicate any interference in their professional lives or work.

The newly aired recordings, while highlighting a disagreement between Mandelblit and Nitzan years before the Netanyahu investigations began, do not provide evidence for any blackmail.

In the Harpaz affair, Mandelblit was briefly suspected of having helped military brass cover up a smear campaign.

He was questioned under caution in June 2014, when he was already out of uniform and serving as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, and later cleared by the High Court of Justice over his involvement in the affair and found to have “done no wrong.”

However, it was up to Nitzan and law enforcement to declare whether the case was closed due to lack of evidence, or the absence of a basis for an accusation.

For Mandelblit, a conclusion of lack of evidence could have scuppered his hopes of being appointed attorney general. Mandelblit was eventually appointed attorney general and took office in February 2016, despite the Harpaz case against him not being formally closed.

The open case against Mandelblit has been used as ammunition against him by associates of Netanyahu who have sought to discredit the state prosecution as it proceeds with corruption charges against the premier.

“Do you understand that that jerk isn’t making a decision on my case?” Mandelblit can be heard telling Nave in the recordings, referring to Nitzan. “I don’t know what to do with him.”

“He’s doing it to me on purpose. I don’t know what to do,” Mandelblit says. “It’s possible he wants to have me by the throat. I don’t know what he’s thinking. In the end I’ll lose it and make a big stink over this.”

Israel Bar Association former chairman Efi Nave is seen at a Tel Aviv court on January 16, 2019. (Koko/Pool/Flash90)

Mandelblit on Thursday apologized to Nitzan for the recordings.

“Following the publication of the recordings, I spoke with Shai Nitzan and clarified the matter. Shai accepted this and we straightened things out,” he said. “The publication was used by interested parties in a foolish attempt to fuel a baseless conspiracy bonfire.”

Likud lawmakers, including Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, tore into Mandelblit following the report.

Coalition whip Miki Zohar threatened that if Mandelblit did not resign and withdraw his indictment of Netanyahu, more damaging recordings could soon be published. Zohar later walked back the warning, saying he had been misunderstood.

In July, a state prosecution ombudsman criticized Nitzan for his failure to clear Mandelblit in the Harpaz case, saying police and prosecutors had displayed “improper conduct” in their failure to declare that the case was closed due to an absence of guilt.

Nave and Mandelblit were close acquaintances, and the attorney general recused himself from dealing with Nave’s own criminal cases in which he is suspected of advocating for judicial appointments in return for sex.

Channel 12 said the recordings released Tuesday were obtained via legal means and were created with an application on Nave’s phone that automatically records conversations.

A report last month claimed the Nitzan covered up possible police misconduct to avoid giving ammunition to allies of the premier, who have sought to portray the criminal cases against him as a “witch hunt.”

Mandelblit in January indicted Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges for which the prime minister is currently on trial. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and he and his supporters allege a conspiracy by law enforcement and the media seeking to force him from power.

Israel has been without a permanent state attorney since December 2019, with the end of the term Nitzan’s term. Since Alsheich’s term ended in December 2018 the police have been without a permanent chief due to repeated elections and coalition disagreements preventing a proper appointment.

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