Netanyahu lawyers submit defense arguments ahead of pre-indictment hearing

Netanyahu lawyers submit defense arguments ahead of pre-indictment hearing

Israeli TV quotes prosecutors saying unlikely PM’s hearing date will be delayed after he and his allies came short of majority in elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, in a composite photo. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, in a composite photo. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers on Wednesday submitted documents laying out his defense in a series of corruption cases ahead of a pre-indictment hearing with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit next month.

Netanyahu, who in Tuesday’s election suffered a major setback when he and his political allies failed to win a majority needed to form a government, faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one on them.

His hearing with Mandelblit is set to begin October 2, which also happens to be the final date by which President Reuven Rivlin must task a lawmaker with assembling a government.

Quoting sources in the State Prosecutor’s Office, Channel 12 news reported Netanyahu’s hearing was not likely to be delayed due to the election results, which left no party with a clear path to forming a government.

It is widely believed that had Netanyahu won the election with a clear majority, he would have sought immunity from prosecution via a Knesset vote and then sought legislation to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning any such Knesset decision. In the final days of the campaign, Netanyahu was evasive when asked whether he would indeed seek to limit the powers of the Supreme Court.

The hearing was originally scheduled for June, but in May Mandelblit agreed to delay it by three months.

Netanyahu’s attorneys had asked the attorney general for a full-year delay, arguing that the scope of the documents was too large to review in three months. Mandelblit refused that request.

Lawyers for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, (from left) Tal Shapira, Navot Tel Zur, and Amit Hadad, after meeting with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on January 21, 2019. (Mivzak news screenshot)

Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu, pending the hearing, in February. The prime minister’s attorneys requested, and were granted, that the case files not be handed over prior to the April 9 national election in order to prevent information from leaking to the media and affecting the vote.

But after the election, the lawyers refrained for another month from collecting the material, citing a dispute over their fees. They have been accused of engaging in delay tactics.

On Wednesday, high-profile attorney Uri Korb, who was a prosecutor for the state in the case against former prime minister Ehud Olmert, said Netanyahu had requested that he represent him at the upcoming hearing with Mandelblit.

State attorney Uri Korb, right, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, February 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I was asked for assistance. At this stage, I’m not going to be providing any help,” Korb told Channel 12.

He wouldn’t say exactly when the request was made and didn’t rule out eventually taking the job.

Some of Netanyahu’s legal team has left him over issues with payment, which the prime minister has attempted to fund via American supporters, to the chagrin of Israeli authorities.

The prime minister had accepted $300,000 from businessman Nathan Milikowsky, which the Permits Committee in the State Comptroller’s Office initially said he must return.

On Friday, Mandelblit said that he would allow Netanyahu to take a loan from a friend, American businessman Spencer Partrich, to help fund his legal defense.

Netanyahu has strenuously denied the allegations against him and claimed the investigations are part of a witch hunt by political rivals, the media, the police and state prosecutors to force him from office.

The murky elections results could threaten Netanyahu’s defense strategy. While trying to form a government after April’s vote, Netanyahu was reported to have conditioned, or tacitly linked, entry to the post-election coalition on support for immunity arrangements, including possible new legislation, that would shelter him from prosecution as long as he remains in office.

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