Netanyahu has until Monday to tell AG if he will attend hearing on graft cases

Netanyahu has until Monday to tell AG if he will attend hearing on graft cases

PM expected to announce he will be there, but will also repeat objections and demand more time time to prepare; also weighing appeal to High Court

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during Jerusalem Day celebrations at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, on June 2, 2019. ( Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during Jerusalem Day celebrations at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, on June 2, 2019. ( Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to tell the attorney general by a Monday deadline that he will attend a hearing set for October hearing in his criminal cases, despite believing it is taking place unreasonably early, Hebrew-language media reported Sunday.

The prime minister’s defense team is still reportedly considering additional courses of action to delay the hearing, including the option of petitioning the High Court of Justice. According to a Channel 13 report, some unnamed advisers to the prime minister are working to persuade him not to follow this course of action.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said he believes the court would reject such an appeal as the timing of the hearing is a procedural matter at the discretion of prosecutors.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that at the same time as initially agreeing to the hearing, Netanyahu will send a strongly worded letter reiterating his claim that it is unfair that he has to prepare a defense at the same time as campaigning for the September 17 elections.

Mandelblit’s office on Thursday notified Netanyahu that he had until Monday to confirm if he would be attending the hearing on October 2-3, after Mandelblit rejected his appeal for a further delay.

If Netanyahu fails to confirm attendance by the Monday deadline, the hearing process will not take place and a decision on whether to indict the premier will move forward immediately, officials warned. Mandelblit could then file indictments in the prime minister’s criminal probes within days or weeks.

Netanyahu had attempted to have the meeting pushed off because of the fresh elections, but Mandelblit on Thursday dismissed the new vote as a reason to delay the pre-indictment hearing in the three corruption cases against the prime minister.

On Friday Channel 13 revealed new testimony from one of the cases against the prime minister.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony for Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, at the Justice Ministry offices in Jerusalem on June 4, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In Case 4000 the prime minister is accused of giving regulatory favors to Bezeq telecommunications giant controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for favorable coverage for Netanyahu and his family on the Walla news site, which Elovitch also owned.

According to Channel 13, a key witness in the case recounted to police investigators that Netanyahu’s wife Sara had told him she had threatened Elovitch that “help” for the business would be halted if coverage did not improve.

The witness said Sara Netanyahu had spoken to Iris Elovitch, Shaul Elovitch’s wife, and screamed at her that “if negative news continues on the site and you don’t help stop them, help for you will stop.”

The report was denied by a spokesman for the prime minister.

Also Friday, Channel 13 reported that Netanyahu was seeking to beef up his defense team after the resignation of one of his lawyers last month, and is looking at hiring attorneys Boaz Ben Zur and Dror Matityahu. Ben Zur is also currently representing Israel-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, one of the key figures in Case 1000 against the premier.

Israelis will go back to the polls on September 17, after Netanyahu failed to reach agreements with other parties to form a majority coalition after the April 9 election.

Netanyahu has complained that the new elections called late last month were “forced” upon him “in an unprecedented manner” and that this “exceptional event…requires exceptional attention on the part of the law enforcement authorities.” (It was Netanyahu’s decision to call new elections. The regular course of action once he failed to form a coalition would have been to return to the president, who could have offered the task to a different member of parliament.)

Last month, the attorney general agreed to postpone the hearing — originally scheduled for July 10 — to early October. Netanyahu’s lawyers had asked for a full-year delay, arguing that the volume of evidence was too large to review in three months, but that request was rejected.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing in Case 4000, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

Netanyahu is widely reported to have tried to build a coalition after April 9’s election in which his Likud MKs and their allies would initiate or back legislative efforts to enable him to avoid prosecution — first by easing his path to gaining immunity via the Knesset, and then by canceling the Supreme Court’s authority to overturn such immunity.

The latter change would be achieved as part of a wide-ranging reform of the Supreme Court’s role, under which justices would be denied their current authority to strike down legislation, and Knesset and government decisions, deemed unconstitutional. Plans for this “override” legislation have been described as marking a potential constitutional revolution that critics warn could shatter the checks and balances at the heart of Israeli democracy.

Last month, as Netanyahu struggled to cobble together a majority coalition, his associates were said to have warned him that snap elections would likely deny him the time needed to pass legislation shielding him from prosecution.

Nonetheless, when he concluded that he could not muster a majority by the May 29 deadline for presenting his coalition to the Knesset, he pushed through a vote to disperse the 21st Knesset, which had only been sworn in a month earlier, and set Israel on the path to new elections on September 17.

Mandelblit announced in February that he intends to charge Netanyahu, pending a hearing, with fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases, as well as with bribery in one of them.

Netanyahu denies all the allegations against him, and has claimed they stem from a witch hunt supported by the left-wing opposition, the media, the police and the state prosecution, headed by a “weak” attorney general.

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