Ruling out delay, AG gives Netanyahu lawyers until May 10 to schedule hearing

Avichai Mandelblit says prime minister’s attorneys must hold pre-indictment session by mid-July, or he will move ahead to press charges

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing must be held by July 10, while publicly setting an ultimatum for the premier’s lawyers to schedule the proceedings within 12 days, or lose the opportunity to present their case before criminal charges are handed down.

In a statement, Mandelblit also confirmed that Netanyahu’s lawyers have yet to pick up the evidence from his office to prepare for the hearing, made available to them at their request on April 10. The attorneys were refusing to appear until a matter resolving their legal fees was resolved, the attorney general’s office said, dismissing it as a pretext.

In a letter to Netanyahu’s legal counsel, the attorney general told them “that if they wish to conduct a hearing over the investigative files pertaining to his cases, they must coordinate — by May 10, 2019 — a date for the hearing.”

“The hearing is scheduled to take place before July 10,” Mandelblit wrote, according to his office.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at a celebratory Likud event in Jerusalem, April 16, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The letter also berated the lawyers for failing to collect the evidence over a payment dispute.

The dispute “does not justify any delay in transferring the core investigative materials to the prime minister or to his representatives, and in any event, this does not affect the date of the hearing,” the attorney general’s office said.

“It was further clarified that if the prime minister elects not to hold the hearing, the attorney general will make a final decision on his cases on the basis of the evidence at his disposal,” it warned.

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 .

According to a television report last week, 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.

The lawyer confirmed reports from last 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 last Tuesday.

Attorney Pini Rubin. (Flash 90)

Netanyahu is a suspect in three criminal probes, dubbed by police as Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, in which investigators have recommended graft indictments.

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 until after April 9, 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 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.

MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a demonstration outside Jerusalem’s Old City, calling for Jews to be allowed to pray there, on July 25, 2015. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

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.

Last 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 that 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.

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