Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorneys for requesting a delay in the pre-indictment hearing process against the premier while failing to pick up or accept the legal documents for more than a month.
The Justice Ministry said it had sent a courier Sunday to deliver the documents and Mandelblit’s response letter directly to the office of Netanyahu’s attorney Navot Tel Zur, but the office staff refused to receive it.
“That refusal is puzzling,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement, adding that the attorney general would “weigh his moves accordingly” and that Mandelbit’s response letter was sent by email due the Tel Zur’s refusal to take the delivery.
The statement also said the ministry had digitized all the legal material to make the process of reviewing the documents easier and faster.
Tel Zur rejected the accusation, claiming the Justice Ministry courier had said he was under orders to only hand the material to Tel Zur himself, who wasn’t in the office at the time. The courier then decided to leave without delivering the documents, the lawyer said in a letter.
He also criticized the ministry for failing to coordinate the visit and for attempting to hand him the documents in the first place, saying he hasn’t accepted responsibility for dealing with the hearing since he hasn’t been paid by Netanyahu.
Attorneys for Netanyahu on Friday asked for the pre-indictment hearing to be delayed, saying the current deadline of July 10 did not provide them enough time to go over the case files. They affirmed that they wanted a hearing, but noted that the premier faced three complex cases. They did not offer an alternate date.
A Justice Ministry official told the Ynet news site over the weekend that “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 prevent him from standing trial.”
An unnamed Likud official who spoke to Channel 12 news assessed that Netanyahu wanted to delay his attorneys’ receipt of the materials until after a coalition is formed, as their content could quickly leak to the public and could embarrass him and weaken his bargaining position.
“The attorney general clarified that there is a serious problem with the argument about the large scale of the documents, and the long period of time needed to study them, when it is being espoused by people who for so long have chosen not to take the investigation material and start reviewing it,” the Justice Ministry said in its Sunday statement.
“However, of course the defense attorneys are allowed to make various requests regarding the hearing process, and the matters will be weighed with attention to the broader picture, as is done routinely by the prosecution,” it added.
The prime minister’s attorneys made their request to postpone the hearing on the last day allotted to them by Mandelblit. The attorney general had 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 are handed down.
Hebrew media reports have indicated that Mandelblit is expected to approve the delay request, granting Netanyahu several more weeks in which to hold the hearing beyond the July 10 deadline he had previously set. Haaretz reported Saturday that Mandelblit may agree to a delay until September — but will only consider doing so once Netanyahu’s attorneys have collected the 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.
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 the vote on April 9, even at the cost of delaying their preparations for the pre-indictment hearings. Mandelblit accepted, releasing the material on April 10.
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 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.