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Responding to PM’s lawyers, AG says he pre-approved probes, but not in writing

Mandelblit says written approval not required, in response to claim by Netanyahu’s attorneys that indictments should be thrown out; Likud: ‘This proves the prosecution lied’

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at an event at Bar Ilan University, March 4, 2020. (Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at an event at Bar Ilan University, March 4, 2020. (Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Tuesday told the Jerusalem court where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is standing trial that he had authorized the police investigations into the premier.

The statement came in response to claims from Netanyahu’s defense team, which asserted that Mandelblit had approved the investigations retroactively and that the corruption charges against the premier should therefore be thrown out. According to the law, investigations into a prime minister need prior approval from the attorney general.

Mandelblit, in a memorandum from his office, indicated there is no written record of the approval, telling the court there is not a legal obligation to authorize the criminal investigations in writing.

He said he oversaw the process carefully, and has documentation from meetings that underline his involvement.

Netanyahu’s Likud party said in response: “Up until now, the prosecution claimed that the attorney general’s approval was not part of the investigatory materials and so there was no need to pass it on to the defense attorneys, and now it claims that written approval was never needed at all.

“The prosecution’s response proves the prosecution lied and there was never approval from the attorney general to open an investigation into the prime minister, against the Basic Law of Government, and the investigation against the prime minister is therefore illegal,” Likud said.

Netanyahu lawyer Boaz Ben Tzur previously noted that an investigation of the prime minister can only be authorized by the attorney general, and that failure to do so would be a breach of Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a face mask in line with public health restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, stands inside the courtroom as his corruption trial opens at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool Photo via AP)

Kan News said Tuesday that Mandelblit had notified Netanyahu personally that he had decided to approve the investigations, two weeks before the first case was opened.

Mandelblit told Netanyahu about the case when it was still in a preliminary phase, roughly two and a half weeks before investigators first questioned the premier, the unsourced report said.

The Jerusalem District Court last week ordered prosecutors to hand over Mandelblit’s authorization for police investigations into Netanyahu. The court rejected prosecutors’ argument that the authorizations were not related to the investigation.

The court’s ruling applied to Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000 against the prime minister.

The state prosecution has dismissed the claims by Netanyahu’s attorneys that the investigations were unlawful, saying “the investigations were approved according to the law” and arguing that by law, the approvals do not need to be documented in writing.

The State Attorney’s Office has said that “the authorizations to open an investigation were given at two meetings, one on December 25, 2016, and the other on January 5, 2017.”

Netanyahu’s defense team has made several requests to cancel the charges against him, citing various procedural matters, but has been rebuffed by judges every time so far.

Netanyahu’s lawyers have also claimed that police investigators operated a wide-ranging probe beyond the scope of their authority. The lawyers argued before the court that investigation materials indicated that the probe into the premier was improperly handled, and may have begun before the attorney general gave his authorization.

Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, which involves suspicions that Netanyahu granted regulatory favors benefitting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecoms, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his family from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site. Elovitch and his wife, Iris, also face bribery charges in the case.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)

On Sunday, prosecutors filed an amended indictment against Netanyahu in Case 4000 after the court accepted the premier’s lawyers’ claim that the original indictment lacked important details. The amended indictment details 315 specific requests to change Walla’s coverage in favor of Netanyahu and his family.

Prosecutors said there are indications that the prime minister himself was personally involved in some 150 of the demands, and that he was aware that other members of his family were making requests of Elovitch “at a considerable scale and in a consistent manner.”

Netanyahu also faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 as well as in Case 2000. The former involves suspicions Netanyahu illicitly accepted some $200,000 in gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage in exchange for legislation weakening rival newspaper Israel Hayom. Mozes was charged with bribery in the case.

Netanyahu’s trial opened in May. Though the prime minister attended the first hearing, he was granted an exemption from appearing at later, largely procedural stages of the trial.

Netanyahu, who is the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office, denies any wrongdoing and has railed against the courts, prosecution, and media for what he terms a “witch hunt.”

His lawyers have repeatedly moved to delay and discredit the proceedings, filing complaints against the prosecution, alleging “criminal tactics” had been used against them; calling for changing the indictment against the prime minister; and claiming that police investigators had used illegitimate means to secure evidence, thus disqualifying the charges.

In November, the court delayed the start of the evidentiary stage from January to February. The court said that witness testimony would be pushed off by a month and that precise dates would be determined later.

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