Report: Mandelblit wraps up Netanyahu indictments, could unveil charges Thursday

Report: Mandelblit wraps up Netanyahu indictments, could unveil charges Thursday

But political dead-end could hold up indictments for months until new government formed, scholar says, since it must first be submitted to Knesset speaker for immunity inquiry

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a Justice Ministry conference in Tel Aviv, on November 4, 2019. (Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a Justice Ministry conference in Tel Aviv, on November 4, 2019. (Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has made a final decision on charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and could unveil the indictments soon, according to a television report on Wednesday night.

According to Channel 13, Mandeblit has already made a decision on what criminal charges Netanyahu will face in three cases against him. The network said Netanyahu would be charged with fraud and breach of trust in the so-called Case 1000 gifts probe, but did not provide information on the final decision in the two other cases, saying only there had been disagreements within the prosecution.

The report, which was unsourced, indicated that Mandelblit could file the charges with the Knesset speaker as early as Thursday.

Other reports have said Mandelblit will announce the charges early next week. The Justice Ministry has not made any formal announcement on when the charges will be unsealed.

The attorney general announced earlier this year that he intended to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust in all three cases against him, and a more serious bribery charge in so-called case 4000, in which the premier is accused of trading regulatory favors for positive media coverage.

The television report came shortly after Israel sunk deeper into political chaos as Blue and White leader Benny Gantz announced his failure to form a coalition, likely heralding a third round of elections in under a year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting of the right-wing bloc at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 20, 2019. (GALI TIBBON / AFP)

The political turmoil will likely affect Netanyahu’s criminal charges, since the attorney general must first submit the charge sheet to the Knesset speaker and ask whether the prime minister will seek procedural immunity, according to constitutional scholar Suzie Navot.

Procedural immunity covers alleged offenses committed by a parliamentarian that are unrelated to his parliamentary work.

With the Knesset committees dormant in the caretaker government, the process could take months, holding up the indictments at least until a new government is formed.

“He [Mandelblit] cannot file charges. He has to present the indictment to the speaker and then wait for Netanyahu’s decision whether he wants procedural immunity or not,” she told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

“He just has to say that he wants the immunity and then only when a new government is formed and the Knesset committee starts working they’ll deal with it… months from now,” she added.

A key question that remains is whether the attorney general will seek a bribery charge against the prime minister in Case 4000. In that case, Netanyahu is suspected of pushing regulatory decisions financially benefiting the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, Shaul Elovitch, in return for ongoing positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site. It is the most serious of the three cases against the prime minister.

Even if the bribery charge is included in Mandelblit’s announcement it is likely to be watered down, Channel 12 news reported Tuesday, citing a senior source within the state prosecution. The report estimated that there will be a difference, possibly a significant one, between the allegations as laid out in the 57-page document Mandelblit published in February pending a hearing, and the eventual final indictment.

A composite image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch. (Flash90; Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of illicitly receiving gifts such as champagne, cigars and jewelry valued at some NIS 700,000 ($201,000) from billionaire benefactors Arnon Milchan and James Packer, and allegedly reciprocating in Milchan’s case with various forms of assistance.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of agreeing with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. The agreement was never implemented.

In October, prosecutors and the prime minister’s legal team held several days of hearings in which Netanyahu’s attorneys sought to refute the allegations against him.

Netanyahu denies all wrongdoing and has frequently claimed that the investigations against him are a witch hunt and a conspiracy orchestrated by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution.

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