Netanyahu slams report implying he has AG followed as ‘libel’

Israeli newspaper says Avichai Mandelblit, who indicted PM in trio of graft cases, has told subordinates he behaves as if he is being watched, phone is being tapped

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, on November 20, 2019 (left); Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit addresses the press in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2019. (Gali Tibon; Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, on November 20, 2019 (left); Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit addresses the press in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2019. (Gali Tibon; Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday pushed back against a newspaper story implying that he is having Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who indicted the premier in a series of graft cases, followed and his phone tapped, calling the report “libel.”

According to Haaretz, Mandelblit has told some people he works with that he acts as if his phone is being tapped and that he is being followed from place to place. The newspaper quoted him recently telling a subordinate to close the blinds in his office ahead of a meeting, concerned that someone could take pictures through the window.

The piece, an analysis saying Mandelblit believes Netanyahu is a danger to the country despite arguing there is no legal impediment to a Knesset member under indictment from being tasked with forming a coalition, did not quote the attorney general saying definitely that he was being tracked or that Netanyahu was responsible for this.

“Today [reporter] Gidi Weitz in Haaretz tells of another false and shocking libel against me, which this time is attributed to the attorney general. Unbelievable,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.

Then Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony welcoming Alsheich to the job, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The prime minister said the report was the latest in a series of attempts to defame him, pointing to alleged  past “libel” by ex-police chief Roni Alsheich and senior investigator Roni Rittman.

Alsheich had alleged in an interview while still serving as police commissioner that officers investigating Netanyahu were put under pressure and being followed. He said that “powerful figures” had hired private investigators to collect information about the police investigators in the Netanyahu cases, apparently to personally discredit them.

Rittman, a former head of the Lahav 433 anti-fraud unit, was reported to have asked investigators probing sexual misconduct claims against him if the allegations were linked to his unit’s probe into Netanyahu.

A report in Haaretz from Monday said Mandelblit had told confidantes he has a growing suspicion that acting State Prosecutor Dan Eldad and Justice Minister Amir Ohana are bent on ousting him from his post, possibly with the help of Netanyahu.

Roni Rittman, arrives at the Police Investigation Department, Jerusalem, December, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu, who denies any criminal wrongdoing, has repeatedly claimed that the charges against him are the efforts of political rivals, the media and law enforcement to remove him from office.

The premier faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one of them, which involve allegations he advanced wealthy businessmen’s interests in exchange for gifts and positive media coverage.

His trial at the Jerusalem District Court is set to begin May 24, after being pushed back from March 17 due to restrictions placed on courts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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