A Likud lawmaker on Tuesday formally asked the state to drop criminal charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in one of three corruption cases against him, after a television report alleged an investigator had a conflict of interest.
At the same time, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn backed the state prosecution’s denial that it had covered up the investigator’s connection to relatives of criminal suspects, and brushed off “conspiracy theories” alleging the cases were designed to bring down the premier.
MK Miki Zohar, who serves as the coalition whip and is seen as a close ally of Netanyahu, said Tuesday morning that he had asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to drop the charges in so-called Case 2000, in which Netanyahu is alleged to have attempted to reach a deal with a newspaper publisher to sink a rival in exchange for more positive coverage.
“This morning I contacted the attorney general with a request to immediately close Case 2000 and cancel the ludicrous indictment that was filed against the prime minister,” Zohar tweeted. “Our claim that Case 2000 is totally baseless was confirmed last night with the revelation of a corrupt conflict of interest in the investigation.”
In a letter to Mandelblit, Zohar charged that “all the people who were involved in the Netanyahu investigations and the decision to open them are shown here to have engaged in serious improper conduct that raises numerous questions and doubts about their integrity and decision-making process in all that relates to the investigations into the prime minister.”
“An investigation must immediately be opened” into everyone involved, he added, including former police commissioner Roni Alsheich and former state prosecutor Shai Nitzan.
Channel 12 reported Monday that senior law enforcement officials had filed a complaint with the state comptroller in recent days alleging that senior police officers and the state prosecutor engaged in a widespread cover-up of a serious conflict of interest by one of the investigators into Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in order not to derail the corruption investigations into the premier.
Netanyahu called the news report “shocking” and an “atom bomb” that proved the corruption cases against him were a conspiracy. Other senior Likud officials have also called for an investigation into the charges.
Nissenkorn, of the Blue and White party, said Tuesday he was satisfied with the state prosecution’s denial of the allegations.
“The [law enforcement] system must constantly check itself, investigate, fix, and respond substantively to all criticism. And so it will. The report last night on Channel 12, which is based on reports from 2017, was met with a detailed response by the state prosecution, which speaks for itself,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Ridiculous conspiracy theories that the cases are cobbled together [to incriminate Netanyahu] are baseless, and join additional inciting calls — to investigate the judges, the investigators, the attorney general and more and more. All of these have one common goal — destroying the law enforcement system. It won’t happen,” he said. “The legal system will continue to work independently and without fear, because this way, and only this way, will democracy be upheld here.”
According to the television report, the officials allege that Superintendent Avi Rotenberg, the chief investigator into the allegations Sara Netanyahu misspent public funds for her personal benefit, did not disclose to his superiors in 2016 that he was in an extramarital relationship with Judy Nir-Mozes.
Nir-Mozes is the sister of Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, who has been charged together with the prime minister in Case 2000. According to prosecutors, Mozes and Netanyahu negotiated a deal by which Mozes would ease the paper’s criticism of Netanyahu, who in exchange would push rules to weaken the circulation of rival tabloid Israel Hayom. Netanyahu was charged with fraud and breach of trust, while Mozes faces bribery charges.
Netanyahu has denied accusations in all three cases, which also include a bribery charge over another media deal, alleging he is a victim of a conspiracy by the press, law enforcement and the legal system to unseat him.
In June 2019, Sara Netanyahu was convicted of misusing public funds as part of a plea deal in a case involving allegations she illegally procured and then misreported catering services at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
The TV report showed internal police documents purportedly revealing that when confronted about rumors of his relationship, Rotenberg denied them and said there was no conflict of interest, and was granted access to case 2000 materials.
The report said Roni Rittman, who led the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, eventually learned of Rotenberg’s relationship with Nir-Mozes, but failed to report it to the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department, or PIID.
Instead, Rittman decided to handle the issue “discreetly,” and suggested that Rotenberg move to a different position.
The connection was only relayed to PIID — which investigates alleged wrongdoing by police officers — after Rotenberg’s wife approached the police and threatened to go public with the information.
The Justice Ministry unit was “horrified” by the information and called for an investigation, according to Channel 12.
PIID investigators wrote that Rotenberg “was aware of the personal interest of Nir-Mozes in the outcome of the investigation and the way it was handled, including the close relationship between her and her brother.”
But prosecutors later concluding that despite the connection, there was no reason to investigate Rotenberg, since there was no indication he worked to benefit Nir-Mozes during the course of the investigation, the report said.
The TV report claimed that Nitzan kept the PIID investigation from proceeding over fears that the information would leak and provide Netanyahu with powerful ammunition in his public campaign to paint the investigations as a conspiracy against him.
All those accused in the Channel 12 report denied the allegations.