Mandelblit said likely to water down bribery charge for Netanyahu in Case 4000

AG still reportedly weighing whether to include severe charge when he announces decision on PM’s corruption cases in coming days

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is reportedly still contemplating whether to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery in the most serious of the three corruption cases against the premier.

In the probe, known as Case 4000, Netanyahu is suspected of pushing regulatory decisions financially benefiting the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, Shaul Elovitch, in return for ongoing positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site. It is the most serious of the three cases against the prime minister, carrying possible charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

Even if the bribery charge is included in Mandelblit’s announcement, expected by early next week, it is likely to be watered down, Channel 12 news reported Tuesday, citing a senior source within the state prosecution.

The report said Mandelblit had not yet made the decision, or at least hasn’t let his staff know about it. The report estimated that in any case there will be a difference, possibly a significant one, between the allegations as laid out in the 57-page document Mandelblit published in February and the eventual indictment.

The bribery charge “will be watered down and will undergo a ‘diet,’ perhaps a significant one,” reporter Guy Peleg said.

More specifically, he said, the bribery charge will focus only on the regulatory decision to approve a merger deal between Bezeq and satellite TV provider Yes, and other decisions said so far to be part of the alleged bribery deal will be excluded.

A report by Walla on Monday said police had completed their review of problematic evidence in the case and sent it to Mandelblit. A source involved in the issue was quoted as saying police had not carried out new investigations, but rather had re-processed existing material gathered during the investigation.

The case files were reopened due to claims by Netanyahu’s lawyers during the pre-indictment hearings last month relating to Case 4000.

According to a report Sunday by the Kan public broadcaster, Mandelblit studied correspondence between associates of the prime minister and the owner and the CEO of the Walla news site. He also looked at past headlines featured on the site.

A composite image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch. (Flash90; Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

Netanyahu’s lawyers had argued there was no connection between the correspondence and the headlines.

The reexamination of the materials was described by the Kan public broadcaster and Channel 12 as highly rare at this late stage of the investigation.

The indictments against Netanyahu are expected to be announced next Sunday or Monday.

Mandelblit served as cabinet secretary under Netanyahu and was appointed by him to the attorney general post in 2016.

In the draft charge sheet issued in February, Mandelblit outlined an indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust against the premier in Case 4000, and fraud and breach of trust in two other cases, dubbed by police, Case 1000 and Case 2000.

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrate near Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva, October 29, 2019. (Flash90)

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of illicitly receiving gifts such as champagne, cigars and jewelry valued at some NIS 700,000 ($201,000) from billionaire benefactors Arnon Milchan and James Packer, and allegedly reciprocating in Milchan’s case with various forms of assistance.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of agreeing with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. The agreement was never implemented.

In October, prosecutors and the prime minister’s legal team held several days of hearings in which Netanyahu’s attorneys sought to refute the allegations against him.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit arrives at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem for the hearing on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption cases on October 7, 2019. (Flash90)

Netanyahu denies all wrongdoing and has frequently claimed that the investigations against him are a witch hunt and a conspiracy orchestrated by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution.

The legal woes come as Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival, with the country’s unprecedented second election of the year again failing to provide him with a clear victory. In the September elections, neither Netanyahu nor his chief challenger, Benny Gantz, secured the required parliamentary majority to form a new government. Both men have expressed support for a unity government as a way out of the deadlock, but they remain far apart on who should lead it and what smaller parties would join them. Gantz is attempting to form a coalition; his mandate to do so expires on Wednesday night.

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