Attorneys for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday asked to delay a pre-indictment hearing for their client, saying the current deadline of July 10 was too soon.
The defense team affirmed that they wanted a hearing, but noted that the premier did not face one case but three complex cases. They did not offer an alternate date.
Netanyahu’s lawyers have yet to collect evidence in the three cases from the attorney general’s office, made available to them at their request on April 10. The attorneys have said they have delayed collecting the material because of unresolved issues regarding their legal fees.
The attorney general’s office has dismissed their claims as a pretext.
The prime minister’s attorneys made their request on the last day allotted to them by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. Mandelblit warned late last month that the premier’s lawyers must schedule the proceedings by May 10 or lose the opportunity to present their case before criminal charges were handed down.
His office said at the time that the hearing must be held by July 10.
Top Blue and White party official Moshe Ya’alon accused Netanyahu on Friday of engaging in delay tactics.
“Netanyahu is seeking to have the law bent especially for him,” he said Friday. “The material has awaited him and his attorneys since the election, and they’ve avoided picking them up intentionally, in order to create illegitimate pressure on the attorney general.”
Mandelblit announced in mid-February that he intends to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, on fraud and breach of trust charges in three corruption cases, and on a bribery charge in one of them.
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 had asked Mandelblit to freeze the hearing process and not release to them the evidence in the case until after April 9, even at the cost of delaying their preparations for the pre-indictment hearings. Mandelblit accepted, releasing the material on April 10.
According to a television report last month, Netanyahu’s lawyers are mulling petitioning the High Court of Justice against Mandelblit if he refuses to postpone the pre-indictment hearing for potential charges. One of Netanyahu’s lawyers reportedly told Channel 12 that they were also considering forgoing the hearing altogether if Mandelblit will not delay it.
Netanyahu is a suspect in three criminal probes, dubbed by police as Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, in which investigators have recommended graft indictments.
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 prime minister with fraud and breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery.
In Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the prime minister, 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 tied to the purchase of submarines from a German shipbuilder. 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 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.