State prosecutor hands indictment recommendations against PM to attorney general
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TV: Case 4000 seen by State Prosecution as 'clear bribery'

State prosecutor hands indictment recommendations against PM to attorney general

Shai Nitzan reportedly concludes enough evidence to charge Netanyahu for bribery in 3 separate cases; AG Mandelblit to pore over 800-page report in preparation for final decision

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan at a conference of the Justice Ministry in Tel Aviv, December 21, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan at a conference of the Justice Ministry in Tel Aviv, December 21, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The State Prosecution has completed its work on the three criminal cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the attorney general’s office will begin deliberations over the cases in the coming days, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan said Wednesday, with his conclusions reportedly pointing to bribery charges in each.

The State Prosecution considers one of the probes, known as Case 4000, to constitute “a clear case of bribery,” while Cases 1000 and 2000 are seen as “bribery lite,” Hadashot TV news reported.

It said the attorney general’s office aims to reach a decision on whether to press charges in the next few months, and certainly “well before Passover” in mid-April.

It is up to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to decide whether to indict the premier.

The Hadashot TV report described Case 4000 as the gravest of the cases. Referring to what it said was a draft recommendation prepared by the State Prosecution, it said Case 4000 was regarded as a clear case of bribery, as well as fraud and other offenses.

“We have made and will continue to make every effort to finish the work as soon as possible,” Nitzan told the Globes financial conference in Tel Aviv.

“In recent weeks I have been provided a draft recommendation by the [State Prosecution’s] Tax and Finance Department, after careful study of the investigation material,” Nitzan said.

“In recent months I have held exhaustive meetings with the prosecution and clarified various judicial and evidence-related questions,” he said. “With the completion of the prosecution’s work, discussions will begin in the coming days with the attorney general.”

He said the full probe and recommendations portfolio stretched across over 800 pages.

Police have recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery in Cases 1000, 2000, and 4000. Last month it was reported that Tax and Finance Department head Liat Ben Ari, after reviewing police evidence, had made the same recommendation on Cases 1000 and 2000, though there was no word on her position in Case 4000, the last investigation to have been completed by police.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, in Jerusalem, on December 16, 2018. (ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP)

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues.

The State Prosecution has established evidence that Netanyahu “systematically” demanded the benefits from Milchan in return for promises of regulatory benefits, the Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday.

Police said in their February recommendations that in return for the gifts, Netanyahu pushed a number of projects and even legislation that benefited Milchan and Packer directly.

The most significant of those, police said, was Netanyahu’s effort to extend a 10-year tax exemption on income earned abroad to new immigrants as well as returning residents who have lived abroad for at least 10 years and other eligible new residents. Milchan would likely have saved further millions of dollars from the extension of the law had it not been thwarted by the Treasury.

In addition, Milchan and Netanyahu promoted a free trade zone near the Jordan-Israel border that personally benefited Milchan, a trade holder, and pushed for a deal to merge Israeli media outlets, one partly owned by Milchan, according to police. Netanyahu also allegedly worked to help Milchan regain his US visa.

The evidence in the case, according to Kan, came from some of Milchan’s closest associates. They included his confidante Hadas Klein, who “testified eight times to police and never changed her version of events by a millimeter”; his accountant Zeev Feldman; and his personal driver, who is said to have transported boxes of champagne and cigars ordered by the prime minister.

Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu attend a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/File)

While the State Prosecution has concluded there is enough evidence to bring bribery charges against Netanyahu, Channel 10 news reported that there remain several reservations about indicting Milchan, who police also said should face trial.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily newspaper, the Sheldon Adelson-backed freebie Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

According to Channel 10, the State Prosecution has recommended that both Netanyahu and Mozes face bribery charges.

The police investigation found that from 2009 “Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes held conversations and personal meetings during which they discussed helping each other as a quid-pro-quo to advance their respective interests.”

Police said that Netanyahu offered his support for a bill to close Israel Hayom, to help shrink the newspaper’s circulation numbers and to nix the free daily’s weekend edition. The law did not pass, as the government folded and went to elections in 2015.

In addition, “the prime minister acted as an agent for the Yedioth Ahronoth publisher with other business people, in the purchase of Yedioth Ahronoth, while he was communications minister,” police said.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for extension of his remand in Case 4000, February 22, 2018. (Flash90)

In Case 4000 Netanyahu is suspected of advancing regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

Prosecutors have concluded that the prime minister advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Elovitch despite opposition from the Communication Ministry’s career officials, which Netanyahu was at the time serving as acting communications minister, Channel 10 reported.

Both Netanyahu and Elovich were recommended to face bribery charges, the report said.

The channel, however, did not report on the conclusion regarding Netanyahu’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, who police also recommended being indicted.

In a blistering accusation, police said earlier this month that “the prime minister and his associates intervened in a blatant and ongoing manner, and sometimes even daily, in the content published by the Walla news website, and also sought to influence the appointment of senior officials (editors and reporters) via their contacts with Shaul and Iris Elovitch,” the Bezeq owner’s wife.

“The main suspicion is that the prime minister took bribes and acted in a conflict of interest by intervening and acting in regulatory decisions that favor Shaul Elovitch and the Bezeq Group, while at the same time directly and indirectly demanded interference with the content of the Walla site in a way that would benefit him,” police said in a joint statement with the Israel Securities Authority, which also took part in the nine-month investigation.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a State Control Committee meeting in the Knesset on December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netanyahu has rejected all the accusations and has claimed police top brass were conducting a “witch hunt” against him and his family.

Mandelblit earlier this month strongly protested the premier’s assertions, saying “it’s completely untrue” and expressing full support for police.

“Let me be clear — police aren’t persecuting anyone, the state prosecution isn’t persecuting anyone and judicial officials don’t seek to govern or to persecute,” he told the Knesset’s State Control Committee.

“The only thing we pursue is justice and the rule of law.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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