Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers are mulling petitioning the High Court of Justice against Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit if he refuses to postpone a pre-indictment hearing for potential charges in three corruption cases the premier is implicated in, according to a Channel 12 news report Tuesday.
One of Netanyahu’s lawyers reportedly told the TV network they were also considering forgoing the hearing altogether if Mandelblit won’t delay the hearing, which is scheduled for July.
The lawyer confirmed reports from earlier this week that said Netanyahu’s attorneys have yet to collect the legal documents relating to the three cases that were made available by Mandelblit’s office earlier this month.
Those reports had led to accusations that Netanyahu and his lawyers were not picking up the documents in a bid to delay the hearing, but the lawyer told Channel 12 the documents had not been collected because the firm had not been paid.
Another Netanyahu lawyer, Pini Rubin, made similar remarks about non-payment on Army Radio earlier on Tuesday.
Netanyahu is a suspect in three criminal probes, dubbed by police as Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, in which investigators have recommended graft indictments. Mandelblit announced in February that he intended to indict Netanyahu in all three cases, pending a hearing.
Citing fears of leaks to the press of the evidence against Netanyahu in the middle of a hard-fought election campaign, the prime minister’s attorneys asked Mandelblit to freeze the hearing process and not release to them the evidence in the case, even at the cost of delaying their preparations for the pre-indictment hearings.
The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and claims that the investigations are part of efforts by the media and Israeli left to remove him from power, with the support of a dishonest police investigating team overseen by a “weak” attorney general.
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.
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 also seek to charge the premier with fraud and breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery.
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, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site. In that case, Mandelblit announced he intends to charge both Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribery.
New suspicions have also arisen regarding a possible conflict of interest related to unreported business dealings possibly tied to a German shipbuilder from which Israel buys submarines. The purchases have been investigated as the so-called Case 3000, which snared several of Netanyahu’s close associates, but in which Netanyahu is not currently a suspect.
At the same time, speculation has swirled that Netanyahu may use his newfound political strength after his victory in the April 9 elections to advance legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution as long as he remains prime minister.
Netanyahu has given contradictory answers when asked whether he would advance such legislation, while also denying any wrongdoing. Under the existing immunity law, any MK can seek immunity by winning a majority in the Knesset House Committee and then in the Knesset plenum.
On Sunday, Bezalel Smotrich confirmed that his far-right Union of Right-Wing Parties intends to advance legislation to grant all MKs immunity from criminal prosecution.
Smotrich’s proposal would grant MKs automatic immunity, which could then only be lifted by a majority in the House Committee and the plenum.
While Smotrich has claimed he is not championing the legislation to protect Netanyahu, if passed it would mean the prime minister could not be put on trial in any of the three criminal cases for which he is facing prosecution, pending Mandelblit’s hearing.