Mandelblit said leaning toward accepting delay to PM’s hearing

Mandelblit said leaning toward accepting delay to PM’s hearing

AG reportedly set to agree to several weeks’ deferral; Justice Ministry official: ‘No one is under any illusions: Netanyahu wants to buy time to arrange immunity for himself’

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at conference at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan on March 28, 2019. (Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at conference at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan on March 28, 2019. (Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to approve a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorneys to delay a pre-indictment hearing for their client, according to Hebrew media reports Saturday.

Justice Ministry officials told the Ynet news site Mandelblit would likely grant Netanyahu several more weeks in which to hold the hearing beyond the July 10 deadline he had previously set.

Haaretz reported that Mandelblit may agree to a delay to September — but will only consider doing so once Netanyahu’s attorneys have collected evidence in the three cases against the premier from his office.

Netanyahu’s lawyers have yet to collect the case files, made available to them at their request on April 10. The attorneys have said they have delayed collecting the material because of unresolved issues regarding their legal fees.

A Justice Ministry official told Ynet that though Mandelblit is likely to accept a delay, “No one is under any illusions: Netanyahu wants to buy time to arrange for himself — once his coalition is ready — an immunity law that will stop him from standing trial.”

An unnamed Likud official who spoke to Channel 12 news assessed that Netanyahu wants to delay his attorneys’ picking up the materials until after a coalition is formed, as their content may quickly leak to the public and could embarrass him and weaken his bargaining position.

Attorneys for Netanyahu on Friday asked to delay the hearing, saying the current deadline of July 10 was too soon. The defense team affirmed that they wanted a hearing, but noted that the premier did not face one case but three complex cases. They did not offer an alternate date.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he addresses Likud supporters at his party’s headquarters in Tel Aviv on election night early on April 10, 2019. (Thomas COEX / AFP)

The prime minister’s attorneys made their request on the last day allotted to them by Mandelblit. Mandelblit warned late last month that the premier’s lawyers must schedule the proceedings by May 10 or lose the opportunity to present their case before criminal charges were handed down.

Top Blue and White party official Moshe Ya’alon accused Netanyahu on Friday of engaging in delay tactics.

“Netanyahu is seeking to have the law bent especially for him,” he said Friday. “The material has awaited him and his attorneys since the election, and they’ve avoided picking them up intentionally, in order to create illegitimate pressure on the attorney general.”

Mandelblit announced in mid-February that he intends to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, on fraud and breach of trust charges in three corruption cases, and on a bribery charge in one of them.

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 had asked Mandelblit to freeze the hearing process and not release to them the evidence in the case until after April 9, even at the cost of delaying their preparations for the pre-indictment hearings. Mandelblit accepted, releasing the material on April 10.

Lawyers for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, (from left) Tal Shapira, Navot Tel Zur, and Amit Hadad, after meeting with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on January 21, 2019. (Mivzak news screenshot)

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

The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and claims that 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.

At the same time, speculation has swirled that Netanyahu may use his newfound political strength after his victory in the April 9 elections to advance legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution as long as he remains prime minister.

Netanyahu has given contradictory answers when asked whether he would advance such legislation, while also denying any wrongdoing. Under the existing immunity law, any MK can seek immunity by winning a majority in the Knesset House Committee and then in the Knesset plenum.

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