The senior state prosecutor who oversaw the police investigation into one of the three corruption cases facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regards it as “a clear case of bribery” involving hundreds of millions of shekels, according to a transcript of discussions with her boss, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, quoted by Israeli television on Friday night.
Mandelblit, Israel’s top legal officer, is expected to publish his conclusions on the three cases within the next few weeks, having informed Netanyahu’s lawyers earlier Friday that he has rejected the prime minister’s demand that any decision to indict be postponed until after Israel’s April 9 elections.
According to Channel 13 News, which presented what it said were transcripts from the discussions Mandelblit has been holding with his state prosecution team as he reviews the cases against Netanyahu, prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari told Mandelbit she has no doubt that the prime minister should be prosecuted over Case 4000, reportedly the most serious of the three cases.
In Case 4000, Netanyahu is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.
“Case 4000 is a clear case of bribery. There is no doubt that the prime minister carried out particularly grave breaches of the law,” Ben-Ari reportedly said. “We’ve indicted in far less serious cases. We are talking about favors worth hundreds of millions of shekels.”
The TV report quoted another senior prosecutor echoing the summation: “We absolutely need to indict. This is not a case where there are doubts; it’s a case where a conviction is guaranteed.”
The report said state prosecutors were unanimous regarding Case 4000, and that most also recommend prosecuting in Case 2000, which involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon (Noni) Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble rival daily Israel Hayom in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. Some reports have suggested that Mandelblit may close the case, and the Friday report said he was still uncertain.
It quoted Yonatan Tadmor, a deputy state prosecutor, saying: “Case 2000 is a clear case of bribery. Noni Mozes and Netanyahu were haggling over legislation. There are recordings and there is evidence. On what pretext would we close this case? There is clear-cut evidence and considerable public interest. Closing the case would negatively impact on Case 4000.”
Most state prosecution officials share this conclusion, the TV report said, though two recommend closing the case. One of them, Raz Nezri, was quoted saying of Case 2000, “We are entering the media-politics arena here. It’s a field we are ill-advised to enter.”
Responding to the leaked transcripts, Netanyahu issued a statement condemning “another criminal leak aimed at continuing to place extraordinary pressure on the attorney general in order that he will indict the prime minister at all cost before the elections, even when there’s nothing [to justify charges]. How can you say that two and a half articles on an internet site constitute bribery when 43 Knesset members, who voted for a law to close [daily newspaper] Israel Hayom that would have brought hundreds of millions of shekels to Noni Mozes, are not investigated? Apparently the pressure on the attorney general is working.”
Earlier Friday, Mandelblit wrote to Netanyahu’s lawyers to reject their demand that he postpone publishing his conclusions in the three cases until after the elections.
Channel 12 news on Friday night said Justice Ministry officials, in deciding not to postpone an announcement, took the decision in part because of a concern that, if given the opportunity by a delay, a re-elected Netanyahu may seek to pass legislation based on the so-called French law, but tailored to his needs, under which he would be immune from prosecution for so long as he remains prime minister.
Police have recommended that Netanyahu be charged with bribery in all three of the cases against him. In the third, Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits and gifts worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues. Some reports have suggested that Mandelblit is leaning toward a charge of breach of trust in this case.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing, and has claimed the investigations are part of a political vendetta and witch hunt aimed at ousting him, involving the political left, the media and the police.
In response to Mandelblit’s decision not to postpone a ruling, Netanyahu said earlier Friday that the attorney general was failing to do his job properly in rushing to rule on the cases, and claimed that he had “surrendered to the pressures from the left and the media.”
In a video posted to the prime minister’s Facebook page, Netanyahu said that the attorney general’s decision was being influenced by figures aiming to indict him “at any cost, even when there is nothing.”
Netanyahu further claimed that Mandelblit’s decision on the cases — which he called “one of the most crucial in the history of the state of Israel, a decision that may bring to the rising of the left’s rule” — was being made at “record speed” in order to ensure its publication before the elections.
“Senior state attorneys told [Israeli newspaper] Globes that even if Mandelblit had wanted, he could not have had time to read all the materials that deal with the investigations,” Netanyahu claimed, asserting that the attorney general had only read summaries of the case material.
“At any rate, I am sure of my innocence, and I am sure that the truth will come to light,” the prime minister concluded.
Netanyahu’s lawyers are reportedly mulling an appeal to the High Court of Justice to request that Mandelblit be forced to delay the announcement until after election day, according to Hebrew media reports quoting sources close to Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has vowed not to step down if Mandelblit announces that he intends to indict him, pending a hearing, in any of the cases against him, asserting that the law does not require him to do so. Mandelblit has confirmed that this is the case.
Israeli law only requires that a prime minister step down if convicted, but experts have suggested that Netanyahu could have a “problem” if he sought to stay in office after a formal indictment was filed at the completion of a hearing process. Under law and High Court of Justice precedent, ministers other than the prime minister are required to step down in such a situation. There is no clear legal rule regarding the prime minister.