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Netanyahu reportedly agrees to ‘moral turpitude’ in potential plea deal

Opposition leader denies he’s ‘announced’ agreement to clause that would bar him from public office; prosecutors said to remain doubtful deal can be reached before AG’s term ends

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s demand that a plea deal in his criminal trial include a clause banning him from public office for seven years, Israeli television reported Monday.

“Netanyahu decided to go for a deal and accept the attorney general’s bottom line,” an unnamed associate of the former prime minister told Channel 12 news, referring to the “moral turpitude” designation.

According to Channel 13 news, though Netanyahu is ready to agree to “moral turpitude,” he has not yet informed Mandelblit, as he is not sure the attorney general is prepared for a plea deal.

The network also said that Mandelblit, senior prosecutors and Netanyahu’s legal team had been meeting for hours on Tuesday afternoon and evening regarding the potential plea bargain.

Following the reports, Netanyahu’s spokesman released a statement that quoted his lawyers saying the former prime minister “has not announced he agrees to moral turpitude.” Pundits noted the statement’s use of the word “announced,” rather than a full denial.

Netanyahu himself appeared to downplay rumors that he had decided to sign a plea deal.

“Guys, there’s nothing to update you on. If there’s something to update, I’ll update,” a statement quoted him as telling MKs in his Likud party.

Related: It’s all about ‘turpitude’: Making sense of the Netanyahu plea bargain reports

Netanyahu is on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies all the allegations.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara leave after meeting on the plea deal with their lawyers, outside Boaz Ben Zur’s home in Ramat Gan, January 16, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The reports followed a meeting Netanyahu and his family held Sunday with his lawyers to decide whether to accept a plea deal.

Channel 12 on Monday reported the aim of that meeting was to convince Netanyahu’s relatives to accept the decision he has already made, with those present told it was the best agreement for the ex-premier that his lawyers could achieve.

“It’s a good deal that has to be accepted,” Netanyahu’s lawyer Boaz Ben Zur was quoted as saying by Channel 13, vowing to “battle over every detail” in an amended indictment.

The network also quoted Netanyahu’s wife Sara expressing reservations over accepting a plea deal.

“The prosecution is toying with us. They’ll show everyone that Bibi is prepared to admit to crimes, and then they’ll drop the deal. Mandelblit cannot be trusted,” she reportedly said.

The report said others at the meeting called Deputy State Attorney Liat Ben-Ari, the lead prosecutor in Netanyahu’s case, a liar and said she cannot be trusted.

Liat Ben-Ari, prosecutor in the corruption trial against Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in the trial, April 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

According to Channel 13, Ben-Ari has cooled toward a potential deal. However, Channel 12 said both she and State Prosecutor Amit Aisman back an agreement while Mandelblit, who is due to step down at the end of this month, has become less enthusiastic about a deal, given the public criticism.

Additionally, Channel 12 noted both sides were aware that ultimately the devil is in the details: If the terms of a deal are too lenient, the court may end up refusing to accept it, and if the charges are too severe, the court may demand a harsher sentence than the sides agree to.

It also remains unclear if a deal can be reached before Mandelblit’s term ends, with sources close to Mandelblit and in the State Attorney’s Office casting doubt on such a prospect. On Monday, Channel 13 said prosecutors remain doubtful that a deal is achievable before Mandelblit steps down.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Earlier Monday, Netanyahu made his first public comments since reports broke that he had instructed his lawyers to press ahead with talks on a plea deal, thanking supporters who donated money as part of a crowdfunding effort to help cover the costs of his defense.

“Thank you to the multitudes of Israeli citizens for their tremendous support and wonderful love in recent days,” he tweeted. “The warmth of your hearts has touched my family and myself in an unparalleled way.”

Netanyahu tweeted the statement alongside a 2016 family photo of himself, his wife Sara and his two sons, Avner and Yair.

The fundraising campaign started by the former prime minister’s supporters has so far raised over NIS 2.6 million (some $835,000). It is unlikely that he would be able to accept the funds as a serving lawmaker.

Netanyahu is one of Israel’s richest politicians, with Forbes reporting in 2019 he was worth NIS 50 million ($13.8 million).

Benjamin Netanyahu, second left, and his wife Sara, second right, tour in Tel Gezer and Magshimim Forest together with their sons Yair, right, and Avner, left, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, October 21, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid pushed back against recent reports that a potential plea deal for Netanyahu could bring down the coalition that was formed to oust the longtime premier.

Some analysts believe that if Netanyahu signs a plea deal and withdraws from political life, the government’s right-wing factions could break away and form a coalition with the Likud party under new leadership.

“The government will last, it is not dependent on Netanyahu. It depends on joint action and depends on the fact that we have formed a government that unites Israeli society instead of all the splits, rifts and incitement,” Lapid said.

Netanyahu is on trial in three separate graft cases: for fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and for 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.

In Case 2000, he is accused of attempting to make a deal with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes for softer coverage of him in exchange for legislation to curb the reach of rival daily Israel Hayom.

According to reports in recent days, the details of a plea agreement that have already been agreed would include dropping the most serious charge against him, for bribery Case 4000, as well as the entire Case 2000, and seeing Netanyahu admit to fraud and breach of trust in both Cases 4000 and 1000. The sides have reportedly agreed that Netanyahu will not see prison time, and would be sentenced to three to six months of community service.

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 leftist media.

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