Netanyahu’s lawyer derides bribery allegations against PM

If PM was indeed being bribed, Yaakov Weinroth says sardonically, it would make him a hapless ‘arch-shlemiel’ as deals never went through

Attorney Yaakov Weinroth on Channel 2's "Meet the Press," November 26, 2016. (screen capture)
Attorney Yaakov Weinroth on Channel 2's "Meet the Press," November 26, 2016. (screen capture)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorney on Wednesday evening hit back at the police recommendations for indictment, telling a TV station “there was no bribery” in the two cases against the premier.

Yaakov Weinroth also denied Netanyahu had sought to extend a tax law benefiting Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and said the prime minister had been “obligated” to try and help Milchan obtain a US visa, as the mogul’s former permits were pulled over his clandestine ties to Israel’s intelligence services.

Weinroth noted sardonically that if Netanyahu was indeed being bribed, as claimed in the police summary, that would make him an “arch-shlemiel” [bungler, unlucky person] as none of the alleged benefits for his wealthy benefactors ultimately went through.

Police on Tuesday recommended Netanyahu be indicted in two corruption investigations, known as cases 1000 and 2000.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born mogul Milchan, totalling NIS 1 million ($282,000). In return, Netanyahu is alleged by police to have intervened on Milchan’s behalf in matters relating to legislation, business dealings and visa arrangements.

Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu on March 28, 2005. (Flash90)

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.

“Anyone who reads what the police wrote with their eyes open sees that in this case there is no bribery,” Weinroth told Hadashot news in his first interview since the recommendations dropped. He also denied the prime minister had accepted bribes in the second investigation, Case 2000.

In the interview, Weinroth rejected claims the prime minister worked to extend a tax exemption law for immigrants, known as the “Milchan Law.”

“Nothing will come of either of them,” he said of the cases. “If the prime minister was bribed then he must be an arch-shlemiel, a person who doesn’t manage to provide the goods, in any of the matters over the years. But the cigars kept coming.”

Regarding Milchan’s visa, for which Netanyahu allegedly appealed directly to then-US secretary of state John Kerry, the attorney said it was an “exceptional” case.

“It was an exceptional case in which the prime minister had to intervene,” he said. “This is a man whose visa was annulled, based on what is known, because he helped the State of Israel. And then it becomes the obligation of the prime minister to intervene in the matter.”

Milchan was involved in covert arms deals in the 1970s and operations to obtain nuclear equipment on behalf of Israeli intelligence services, he confirmed to Israel’s “Uvda” investigative reporting show in 2013.

Also on Wednesday, Hadashot TV said police have not gathered sufficient evidence to justify some of the charges they recommend being filed against Netanyahu, in a devastating critique of the police’s current handling of the case.

“Not everything asserted in the recommendations is backed up by the evidence” in the case file, sources in the state prosecution reportedly said.

The Hadashot TV report suggested serious friction between the prosecution and the police regarding the case, including over how long it should now take to finalize. The police believe the prosecution is sufficiently familiar with the material as to be able to first reach a decision on indictments, then hold a final hearing for Netanyahu to plead his case, and finally press charges, all within some eight months, and that anything longer would be foot-dragging, the report said.

The way the prosecution sees the process playing out, by contrast, would suggest that if any indictments are to be filed, this could not happen before late 2019, Hadashot news said. First, a senior prosecutor will go over the material and make a recommendation, then State Prosecutor Shani Nitzan will do the same. Next, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will decide if there is a case to answer, with each of these stages taking several months. More time would be required to prepare a hearing for Netanyahu, and then for Mandelblit to make a final decision, the TV report said.

A day after the police issued recommendations that Netanyahu be prosecuted for breach of trust, fraud and bribery in both of the corruption cases they have been investigating, the prosecution sources told Hadashot TV news that the police had “inflated the balloon to the very limit” — by which they meant, the report said, that at least some of the recommendations for prosecution were potentially overstated.

As things stand, the sources said, the case file against Netanyahu is incomplete, should not have been handed over to the state prosecution and the attorney general at this stage, and would require further police work.

Both Hadashot and Channel 10 news, which also quoted state legal sources, said the case was “only 95% complete,” and Channel 10 said it was even possible that Netanyahu himself would also have to be called in further questioning.

The state prosecution hierarchy — which is headed by Attorney General Mandelblit, the official who must ultimately decide on whether to prosecute the prime minister — only received the full case file from the police on Wednesday, a day after the police published their recommendations, Hadashot TV reported. It noted, however, that the state prosecution was routinely updated on the progress of the investigation on at least a daily basis.

“It is not clear to us why there was this mad rush to publish the recommendations yesterday,” the prosecution sources were quoted saying. The case file, they said, was “emphatically not ready for transfer at this time,” and “further investigations will certainly be required.”

They also reportedly protested that the police “tried to spin” a false impression that Mandelblit was delaying the publication of the police recommendations.

The police “wrote a check that they won’t have to cover” with their recommendations, the sources were quoted saying — while it would now fall to the prosecution to face the fallout.

Mandelblit has been placed “in an impossible situation,” the sources reportedly added, in which if he rolls back the recommendations even to the slightest degree “it will appear like a collapse” of the case.

Nonetheless, the sources said, Mandelblit will take “no short cuts” and will begin to formulate his position only after all he has received the opinions of all the relevant professionals in the legal hierarchy.

Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu slammed the police recommendations that he stand trial on a slew of corruption charges as “biased” and “extreme” and with more holes than “Swiss cheese.” On Tuesday night, in a first response, he called them “unfounded.”

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