Netanyahu pre-trial hearing to take place by mid-July, attorney general says

Avichai Mandelblit accepts petition from prime minister’s attorneys to keep evidence sealed until after election over fear of leaks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday said investigatory materials in the corruption probes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be withheld from prosecutors until the day after the April 9 national elections, citing concerns voiced by the premier’s attorneys that the trove would be leaked to the media.

In a statement from the Justice Ministry, Mandelblit also announced that pre-indictment hearings for all suspects in the cases, including the prime minister, will be held no later than three months after the documents are released to prosecutors overseeing the hearings; that is, before July 10.

But according to a Channel 13 report on Monday evening, Netanyahu’s lawyers are expected to seek more time to prepare for the hearing, and are likely to be granted until at least until September.

“The legal counsel of the prime minister sought to delay the delivery of materials due to their fear that the evidence will find its way into media outlets and will be publicized during elections,” a statement from the Justice Ministry said.

The attorney general has accepted the argument, the statement said.

The decision affects all criminal suspects in cases 1000, 2000, and 4000.

Mandelblit announced last month he intended to indict Netanyahu pending a hearing in three separate criminal cases for fraud, bribery and breach of trust, six weeks ahead of national elections.

Though the decision is not final, Mandelblit’s announcement that he intends to charge Netanyahu marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges, and casts a heavy shadow over his re-election campaign.

Netanyahu will have an opportunity to overturn the decision in the hearing expected to take place by July.

The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and claimed the investigations are part of efforts by the media, the Israeli left, the police and the state prosecution to remove him from power.

In Case 1000, involving accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors, Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust — the latter a somewhat murkily defined offense relating to an official violating the trust the public has placed in him. Milchan is not to be charged.

In Case 2000, involving accusations Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth, Mandelblit will seek to also charge the premier with breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery. The case is said to have been a contentious one in Mandelblit’s office, with many prosecution officials reportedly arguing that Netanyahu should be charged with bribery, while Mandelblit considered not charging the prime minister at all.

In Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, Netanyahu is accused of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, in exchange for positive coverage from its Walla news site. In that case Mandelblit announced he intends to charge both Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribery.

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