Sara Netanyahu ruled out previous effort to reach plea deal in husband’s case

Two years ago, attorneys for the then-PM discussed with the attorney general a proposal very similar to the one on the table today

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara arrive for a court hearing on their lawsuit against former premier Ehud Olmert, at Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on January 10, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/POOL)
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara arrive for a court hearing on their lawsuit against former premier Ehud Olmert, at Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on January 10, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/POOL)

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to reach a plea deal in his three criminal cases some two years ago, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister-site Zman Yisrael reported Friday, but the proposal was vetoed by Netanyahu’s wife Sara.

According to the report, the offer discussed between a top Netanyahu attorney and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at the start of 2020 was very similar to the one the sides are now reported to be negotiating: Bribery charges would be removed from the indictment against Netanyahu and he would admit to charges of fraud and breach of trust. In return, he would then receive a mild sentence of community service and be convicted of “moral turpitude” — ejecting him from public life for at least seven years and likely ending his political career.

According to Zman Yisrael, Sara Netanyahu rejected the proposal out of hand.

Netanyahu, the opposition leader, is on trial in three separate graft cases, after being indicted in 2019 for fraud, breach of trust and bribery. News broke earlier this week that the former prime minister was conducting secret negotiations with Mandelblit over a potential plea deal.

TV networks reported on Thursday that the two sides are very close to signing a deal, although one major sticking point remains. According to Channel 13 news, prosecutors will only agree to a deal that includes an admission of moral turpitude and community service for Netanyahu. Netanyahu is said to be trying to avoid the moral turpitude designation in order to have a chance at returning to politics.

The secret talks were reportedly initiated by Netanyahu’s attorney Boaz Ben Zur, and state prosecutors made clear that there would be no compromise on the conviction of moral turpitude.

According to a Thursday night report on Channel 12, the sides were at odds only over the question of when Netanyahu would resign from the Knesset — and therefore who would have the authority to determine if the charges amount to moral turpitude.

If he resigns before a final verdict, it would fall to the Supreme Court judge who heads the Central Elections Committee to make a decision before the next election to the Knesset. If, however, Netanyahu remains in office until a verdict is in place — Mandelblit’s purported preference — then the trial judges will make the ultimate decision on whether his actions amount to moral turpitude.

Meanwhile, political forces believe a plea deal that removes Netanyahu from the political sphere could cause the speedy collapse of the current, ideologically splintered governing coalition.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a conference held by Channel 13 news in Jerusalem on June 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu — who has long publicly proclaimed that his innocence would be proven in court, and previously vowed not to accept any plea deal — is reportedly consulting with aides about moving forward with a deal. Reports have indicated that Mandelblit may be eager to wrap things up before his term ends at the end of the month.

Channel 12 news noted that it is possible Netanyahu is not really interested in a plea deal at all, and may simply be trying to depict the cases publicly as weak, pointing to the prosecution’s readiness to compromise.

According to Channel 13, Netanyahu started considering a plea deal after receiving a legal assessment that key state’s witness Nir Hefetz’s recent testimony was effective for the prosecution’s case, and amid concerns that the upcoming testimony of another state’s witness, Shlomo Filber, could also be damaging.

Top state prosecution officials were unaware of the negotiations for a plea deal with Netanyahu until Wednesday, Channel 13 reported. According to the TV network, Mandelblit held the talks secretly and only notified top figures tied to the case on Wednesday. Officials were outraged when they found out, the report said.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu faces charges in three separate graft cases: fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000.

In Case 4000, the most serious against the former premier, he is alleged to have worked to illicitly and lucratively benefit from the business interests of controlling shareholder of the Bezeq media company Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage on the Walla news site, owned by Elovitch.

In Case 1000, he is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

In Case 2000, he is accused of attempting to make a deal with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes for softer coverage of him in exchange for legislation to curb the reach of rival daily Israel Hayom.

According to the TV networks, the details of the plea agreement that have already been agreed to would include dropping the bribery charge in Case 4000, as well as the entire Case 2000, and seeing Netanyahu admit to fraud and breach of trust in both Cases 4000 and 1000. The sides have reportedly agreed that Netanyahu will not see prison time, and would be sentenced to three to six months of community service.

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