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Netanyahu lawyers again seek to cancel charges, claim AG never authorized probe

State prosecution denies allegation; premier’s previous requests to throw out his criminal indictment were rejected by the court

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with his lawyers at the Jerusalem District Court for the start of his trial on corruption charges, May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with his lawyers at the Jerusalem District Court for the start of his trial on corruption charges, May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers on Sunday again asked the court to cancel the criminal indictment against him, alleging that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit never authorized the police investigations into the premier.

Netanyahu’s defense team has made several requests to cancel the charges against him, citing various procedural matters, but has been rebuffed by judges every time so far.

The state prosecution on Sunday dismissed the claim, saying “the investigations were approved according to the law.”

Earlier this month, Netanyahu’s lawyer said that he has not seen the attorney general’s authorization for opening police investigations into the premier, which yielded the corruption charges for which Netanyahu now stands trial.

Citing precedents, the lawyer, Boaz Ben Tzur, told Army Radio that if the document showing Mandelblit granted permission to open the probes does not surface, there is a chance that the charges could be canceled.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and outgoing state prosecutor Shai Nitzan attend a farewell ceremony held for Nitzan in Jerusalem, on December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s lawyers have asked the court to order the prosecution to disclose Mandelblit’s order. Ben Tzur noted that an investigation of the prime minister can only be authorized by the attorney general, and that failure to do so would be a breach of Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Netanyahu’s lawyers have also claimed that police investigators operated a wide-ranging probe beyond the scope of their authority. The lawyers argued before the court that investigation materials indicated that the probe into the premier was improperly handled, and may have begun before the attorney general authorized the probes.

Ben Tzur also commented on a Jerusalem District Court ruling from earlier in December ordering prosecutors to amend the indictment in one of the three cases Netanyahu was charged in, and claimed prosecutors had tried to artificially inflate the accusations against the prime minister.

Despite that ruling ordering revisions, the court rejected a previous demand by Netanyahu’s lawyers to cancel the charges against him due to issues with the filing process.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) with attorneys Micha Fettman (L) and Amit Hadad (R) inside the courtroom as his corruption trial opens at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool Photo via AP)

Ordering amendments to the charges, the judges said “quite a few details are missing” from the indictment in Case 4000, which they said are “material and relevant to the defendants’ defense.”

The case involves suspicions that Netanyahu granted regulatory favors benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecom company, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his family from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

In that ruling, the judges instructed prosecutors to significantly amend the indictment to clearly distinguish Netanyahu’s alleged actions from those of his family members, as well as Elovitch’s alleged actions from those of his wife, Iris.

Netanyahu’s lawyers had complained that the premier in many cases was grouped with his family in supposed demands from Elovitch to make various changes in Walla’s coverage. They said that it was not clear why Netanyahu must answer for demands allegedly made by his wife or son.

The court said prosecutors must make clear who made the demands in every case and whether the prime minister was allegedly aware of the requests or involved in them.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)

It also told prosecutors to provide detailed information about the alleged contacts between Netanyahu and the Elovitches and the benefits they gave him. The premier’s lawyers had asserted that the information provided was not detailed enough.

The judges rejected a demand by Netanyahu’s lawyers to amend the charges in another affair, dubbed Case 1000.

Concerning Netanyahu’s demand to throw out the indictment because it was allegedly filed in contravention of a law allowing Knesset members to request parliamentary immunity, the court said there were no grounds to cancel the charges since they were filed after the prime minister had withdrawn a request for the Knesset to grant him immunity.

In Case 4000, Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Shaul and Iris Elovitch are charged with bribery in the case.

Netanyahu also faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 as well as in Case 2000. The former involves suspicions Netanyahu illicitly accepted some $200,000 in gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage in exchange for legislation weakening the rival newspaper Israel Hayom.

Mozes was charged with bribery in the case.

Arnon Mozes arrives at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s trial opened in May. Though the prime minister attended the first hearing, he was granted an exemption from appearing at later, largely procedural stages of the trial.

Netanyahu, who is the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office, denies any wrongdoing and has railed against the courts, prosecution, and media for what he terms a “witch hunt.”

His lawyers have repeatedly moved to delay and discredit the proceedings, filing complaints against the prosecution, alleging “criminal tactics” had been used against them, calling for changing the indictment against the prime minister, and, claiming that police investigators had used illegitimate means to secure evidence, thus disqualifying the charges.

Last month, the court delayed the start of the evidentiary stage from January to February. The court said that witness testimony would be pushed off by a month and that precise dates would be determined later.

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