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Netanyahu held talks with prosecutors on potential plea deal – report

Secret discussions said to break down over AG’s demand for a potentially political career-ending admission of moral turpitude

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives for a court hearing in his trial, November 16, 2021, in Jerusalem. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives for a court hearing in his trial, November 16, 2021, in Jerusalem. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and prosecutors discussed a potential plea deal in his graft trial, but the secret talks broke down, according to a report Wednesday.

The Maariv daily, based on information from what it said were sources familiar with the details, reported that the talks failed due to Netanyahu’s refusal to budge in his demand that the agreement include neither an admission of moral turpitude nor, by implication, a prison sentence.

The report said that talks began because Netanyahu believed that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit would be interested in ending his term with a “clean sheet,” and that the short timeframe before his retirement could bring to bear the pressure needed for a deal to be brokered.

Mandelblit retires on February 1, after six years in office, and has ruled out extending his tenure despite the lack of a replacement.

The report said that the discussions between representatives of both sides were held under strict secrecy, and went on for a number of weeks.

The discussions reportedly began after it was ascertained that Mandelblit was willing to hear a proposal, but quickly ended when it became clear that the attorney general would require a full admission of guilt and moral turpitude, as well as a suspended sentence with a substantial fine.

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference of the Association of Corporate Counsel, in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu was not willing to entertain an admission of moral turpitude, and the talks quickly ended. Such an admission would leave the former prime minister ineligible to hold office for several years, and could end his political career.

Responding to Maariv, the State’s Attorney Office said it would not comment specifically on the matter.

“As a policy, we do not respond to questions about conversations with defense attorneys, whether they have occurred or not. This does not confirm or deny anything of what has been alleged,” the statement read.

Wednesday’s report was the first indication of discussions for a potential plea deal, but it is not the first time that Netanyahu has reportedly tried to reach some kind of agreement to prevent or end his trial.

In 2019, he was said to have sought a presidential pardon whereby he would be granted clemency by the next prime minister were he to leave office and the political scene. Netanyahu denied the report.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, September 21, 2014. (AP/Menahem Kahana, Pool/File)

Netanyahu faces charges in three separate graft cases: fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Case 4000.

In Case 4000, the most serious against the former premier, he is alleged to have worked to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of controlling shareholder of the Bezeq media company Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage on the Walla news site, owned by Elovitch.

In Case 1000, he is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

Netanyahu denies all allegations against him, and says the charges were fabricated by a biased police force and state prosecution service, overseen by a weak attorney general, in league with political opponents and the media.

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