Netanyahu’s lawyers meet with AG to request delay of indictment announcement

Netanyahu’s lawyers meet with AG to request delay of indictment announcement

Mandelblit agrees to sit down with defense team, but is expected to reject request to postpone hearings until after elections

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Jerusalem, September 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Jerusalem, September 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense lawyers met on Monday with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to discuss the latter’s deliberations on bribery cases involving the premier.

The defense team asked for the meeting to discuss their request that Mandelblit delay announcing a possible indictment until after the upcoming April 9 elections. Though Mandelblit agreed to meet with the defense team, he is expected to reject their request.

Netanyahu’s lawyers were told the meeting would not deal with any other issues related to the case, such as the investigation process or materials in possession of the prosecution, a letter last week from Mandelblit’s office said.

The meeting took place at Mandelblit’s office, with state prosecutor Shai Nitzan, but without a team of lawyers accompanying the case led by Liat Ben Ari, head of the State Prosecution’s Tax and Finance Department, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

Media reports last week said that Mandelblit had concluded his examination of the evidence in the most severe of the three cases against the prime minister, dubbed by police Case 4000, and is leaning toward pursuing an indictment on bribery charges.

Mandelblit has indicated that he would not delay an announcement of charges, saying that the fact that Israel is holding early elections “is none of my business… It’s not something that affects me.”

“I need to do my work as quickly as possible, although of course without compromising thoroughness and professionalism,” he said in an interview with Channel 12 news.

Responding to reports that Mandelblit will announce his decision on a possible indictment, pending a hearing, before the national vote, Netanyahu has argued over the past two weeks that such a move would be unfair and akin to “stealing the elections.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) speaks with then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit in Jerusalem on December 27, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

His lawyers have pushed for a postponement, including a letter last week from Navot Tel-Zur, a member of Netanyahu’s legal team, that asked Mandelblit not to move ahead with indictment proceedings during an election campaign, and demanded the meeting to discuss the timing of an announcement in the cases.

While Netanyahu has stopped short of accusing the attorney general of political bias, other lawmakers in his Likud party have lashed out at Mandelblit, calling the investigations against the prime minister a “politicized witch hunt.”

Netanyahu has vowed not to step down if Mandelblit announces that he intends to indict him, pending a hearing, in any of the cases against him, asserting that the law does not require him to do so.

Legal officials have anonymously said that this is true, but that Netanyahu would have a “problem” if he sought to stay in office after a formal, final indictment was filed at the completion of a hearing process. Under law and High Court of Justice precedent, ministers other than the prime minister are required to step down in such cases. There is no clear legal rule regarding the prime minister.

In Case 4000, reportedly the most serious of three cases against Netanyahu, he is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

Case 2000 involves a similar suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits and gifts worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues. Some reports have suggested that Mandelblit is leaning toward a charge of breach of trust in this case.

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