Netanyahu collects case files, paving way for pre-indictment hearing

Following weeks of stalling, PM says his lawyers have accepted the material after agreeing to receive partial payment

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, April 3, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, April 3, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers on Tuesday collected the case files in the three corruption investigations against him, after more than a month of refusing to accept the material in an apparent bid to delay a pre-indictment hearing currently scheduled to take place no later than July 10.

The move came after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit criticized Netanyahu for requesting a delay last week while failing to pick up or accept delivery of the legal documents. On Sunday, a source in the prosecution reportedly told Channel 13 news that the request “made a mockery” of Israel’s legal system and that the state prosecution would immediately prosecute the prime minister if he failed to show up for the hearing.

“In order to advance to the hearing and set a date accordingly, a number of representatives of the prime minister arrived at the offices of the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s Office and collected the core of the investigation materials regarding their client,” Mandelblit’s office said in a statement.

The statement said Netanyahu’s lawyers had agreed to attend the hearing and “intend to contact the attorney general’s office by May 20 in order to coordinate the hearing date.”

It added, however, that, “if necessary, they may request a short stay to coordinate the date,” as they may not be ready by May 20 to set the date for the hearing.

In asking on Friday for the pre-indictment hearing to be delayed, attorneys for Netanyahu said 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.

Friday, the day the prime minister’s attorneys made their request to postpone the hearing, was the last day they were allowed to do so. 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.

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

Amid speculation that the prime minister is stalling in order to advance legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution, a spokesman for Netanyahu insisted Tuesday that the delay in accepting the case files was only due to his lawyers not having been paid. This, the spokesman claimed, was the fault of the state for refusing to allow wealthy foreign benefactors to foot the prime minister’s legal bills.

Netanyahu’s attorneys are locked in a battle with the Permits Committee in the State Comptroller’s Office over his request to fund his defense with the help of overseas financiers. The committee has already rejected the request twice. On Sunday, it said it will only consider it for a third time once Netanyahu divulges details on his own assets, something he has so far refused to do.

The panel said it was inappropriate for non-Israeli benefactors to pay for the prime minister’s legal defense in a criminal case that alleges he received illicit gifts from wealthy individuals in Israel and abroad.

His spokesperson said Tuesday that rather than wait, “the prime minister and his attorneys reached a temporary arrangement to pay an advance on their fees in order to overcome the initial obstacle of examining the material for the hearing.”

The spokesperson added that “the prime minister insists on his right to receive financial aid for his legal protection, like any public figure, in view of the vast amounts that the state spent on his case.”

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 the evidence in the case to them until after the vote on April 9, even at the cost of delaying their preparations for the pre-indictment hearings. Mandelblit accepted, making the material available on April 10.

However, for more than a month Netanyahu’s lawyers did not accept the case files, despite numerous attempts by the attorney general to deliver them.

Attorney Navot Tel-Zur seen in the courtroom at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, February 9, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

The Justice Ministry said on Sunday that it had sent a courier to deliver the case documents directly to the office of Netanyahu’s attorney Navot Tel Zur, but the office staff refused to receive it.

Tel Zur rejected the accusation, claiming that the Justice Ministry courier had said he was under orders only to hand the material to Tel Zur himself, who was not in the office at the time. The courier then decided to leave without delivering the documents, the lawyer said in a letter.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is reportedly working to promote a bill that would allow the government to overrule the High Court of Justice on administrative matters and that could safeguard the prime minister’s immunity from prosecution by permitting the annulment of any judicial decision to rescind it.

Specifically, the bill would reportedly prevent justices from ruling that efforts to shield Netanyahu from a pending indictment for corruption — whether through legislation or a government or Knesset decision — are unconstitutional.

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