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Siding with Netanyahu, court demands to see AG’s written authorization of probes

Prosecutors must hand over documents within a week; PM’s attorneys claim Mandelblit’s permission for police investigations was given retroactively, all charges must be canceled

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, at a cabinet meeting on January 4, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90/File)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, at a cabinet meeting on January 4, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90/File)

The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday ordered prosecutors to hand over Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s authorization for police investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Prosecutors must provide the documentation to Netanyahu’s defense team within seven days.

The court’s ruling applies to Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000 against the prime minister, after lawyers for Netanyahu alleged that permission for the criminal probes — which must be granted by the attorney general — was given retroactively. Netanyahu’s attorneys have argued that if written authorization was not given, all the charges against him must be canceled.

The court rejected prosecutors’ argument that the authorizations were not related to the investigation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers, Boaz Ben Tzur (right) and Amit Hadad (second right), at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing on December 6, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lawyers for the prime minister had asked the court to cancel the criminal indictment against the premier, alleging the attorney general hadn’t authorized in advance the probe that yielded the corruption charges for which Netanyahu now stands trial, but only did so after the fact.

The state prosecution has dismissed the claim, 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 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 lawyer said earlier this month that if the document showing Mandelblit granted permission to open the probes does not surface, there was a chance the charges could be canceled.

Boaz Ben Tzur 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 on trial at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

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.

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 the rival newspaper Israel Hayom. Mozes was charged with bribery in the case.

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

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.

Last month, 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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