Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday said the results of the general election would have no bearing on his decisions in the criminal cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
And in strongly-worded comments, the attorney general called allegations that the premier was being framed — such as have been made repeatedly by Netanyahu himself — “nonsense intended to delegitimize the law-enforcement system.”
At an event in Nazareth Illit of the State Prosecution’s Northern District, Mandelblit rejected suggestions by some politicians that Netanyahu’s reelection in the April 9 vote should bring an end to the criminal process against him.
“It has been claimed that there may be some connection between the election process and its results, and the criminal proceedings in progress,” he said. “I will state what is obvious to me: The criminal process does not intersect with the election process. Neither is it influenced by it.”
Quoting from a 1993 ruling in a corruption case against Shas party minister Rafael Pinhasi, Mandelblit said: “The will of the people does not supplant the rule of law, and cannot replace it.”
The attorney general denied any political bias in his office’s handling of the criminal investigations into Netanyahu, and stated that his decision to indict the premier on charges of bribery and fraud, pending a hearing, was “based on the evidence and the dictates of the law, and on them alone.
“When the law and the evidence pointed to there being cause to investigate the prime minister as a suspect, he was investigated as a suspect. When the law and the evidence pointed to there not being cause to investigate the prime minister as a suspect, he was not investigated as a suspect,” Mandelblit said.
“And when…it was found that the evidence points to a reasonable possibility of conviction… I decided to weigh filing charges, pending a hearing. It’s very simple and straightforward. The decisions are professional and orderly.”
He added: “There is no bias here, not towards one side and not towards the other. There is no persecution, heaven forbid. There is certainly no ‘stitch up.’ Any such claims are nonsense intended to delegitimize the law-enforcement system.”
Netanyahu has repeatedly charged that the probes against him are a witch-hunt by police, the left and the media. He and his supporters have sought to paint the state prosecution as an institution led by leftists bent on ousting him, and Mandelblit as a weak pawn who has bowed to the pressure.
The attorney general on Monday expressed outrage at such accusations.
“Unfortunately, the election period saw statements unprecedented in their severity against law enforcement and justice bodies in the nation,” he said. “In general, I avoided reacting or commenting during that period and acted with restraint so as to avoid any appearance of interfering in the political process.
“But I would like to make it clear that restraint is not synonymous with acceptance, certainly not of silent agreement with comments that chip away at the legitimacy of the justice systems and law enforcement.”
He said the decisions made in regard to Netanyahu’s cases so far prove “the supreme status of the rule of law in Israel. Nobody is above the law.”
Mandelblit expressed hope that the justice minister appointed under the next government would enact policy that “will respect the status of the law and justice systems and their vital role in maintaining the Jewish and democratic character of the state. We, for our part, will continue to stand guard to maintain that status.”
On Sunday, Mandelblit said Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing must be held by July 10, while publicly setting an ultimatum for the premier’s lawyers to schedule the proceedings within 12 days, or lose the opportunity to present their case before criminal charges are handed down.
In a statement, Mandelblit also confirmed that Netanyahu’s lawyers have yet to pick up the evidence from his office to prepare for the hearing, made available to them at their request on April 10. The attorneys were refusing to appear until a matter resolving their legal fees was resolved, the attorney general’s office said, dismissing it as a pretext.
The dispute “does not justify any delay in transferring the core investigative materials to the prime minister or to his representatives, and in any event, this does not affect the date of the hearing,” the attorney general’s office said.
It warned that “if the prime minister elects not to hold the hearing, the attorney general will make a final decision on his cases on the basis of the evidence at his disposal.”
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. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.
According to a television report last week, Netanyahu’s lawyers are mulling petitioning the High Court of Justice against Mandelblit, if he refuses to postpone the pre-indictment hearing for potential charges. One of Netanyahu’s lawyers reportedly told Channel 12 that they were also considering forgoing the hearing altogether if Mandelblit will not delay it.
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.