In a worrying sign for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of a hearing in the graft cases against him next week, the state prosecution has reportedly decided to charge two of his alleged co-conspirators with bribery.
According to a Channel 12 news report Thursday, Liat Ben-Ari, the lead prosecutor in the corruption cases involving Netanyahu, and her department conveyed to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit a document refuting the claims of the two — media moguls Shaul Elovitch and Arnon Mozes.
Both men had their own pretrial hearings recently with state prosecutors, but could not convince them to drop the bribery charges against them, the report said.
Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, is involved in Case 4000, the most serious of the three investigations into the prime minister. Netanyahu, who also faces pending bribery charges in that case, is accused of advancing regulatory decisions that benefited Elovitch to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from his Walla news site.
Elovitch’s attorney Jacques Chen dismissed the report, saying the leak to Channel 12 undermined the hearing process and alluding to Mandelblit’s own assertion separately on Thursday that the hearings should not be “public” events.
Mozes, the publisher of the widely read Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper, is a suspect in Case 2000, which revolves around an alleged deal by which Netanyahu would strive to weaken a competing paper, Israel Hayom, in exchange for favorable coverage from Yedioth. In that case, Mandelblit is seeking to charge the premier with breach of trust — an offense relating to an official violating the trust the public has placed in him — and Mozes with bribery.
A third case against Netanyahu, Case 1000, involves accusations he received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors. The attorney general said he intends to charge the prime minister with breach of trust in that case as well, along with fraud.
Netanyahu’s legal team is scheduled to meet with Mandelblit on October 2 for the long-awaited pre-indictment hearing, at which they will try to convince the attorney general not to go ahead with his plan to charge the prime minister.
On Thursday, Netanyahu requested that his hearing be broadcast live to the public, a demand that Mandelblit rejected out of hand.
In a strongly worded response, Gil Limon, an aide to the attorney general, said the request was unreasonable and suggested the prime minister’s legal team focus on preparing a sound defense rather than try to sway public opinion.
Netanyahu’s lawyers have only submitted a single page to Mandelblit ahead of the hearing instead of a comprehensive file laying out the Likud party leader’s defense.
“The request you presented is unprecedented and without legal basis,” Limon said in a letter addressed to Netanyahu’s attorneys Yossi Ashkenazi and Amit Hadad.
“No hearing on the case of any suspect is taking place or has taken place in a public setting,” the letter said. “It would have been better if instead of raising futile requests that you well know will not be accepted, you fulfilled the mandatory instructions for the hearing process, in particular, sending in reasoned and detailed main arguments” in the case, the letter said.
“We regret that instead of following this directive, you thought it proper to submit a very short document and no actual content, and have now found it appropriate to issue an unprecedented application knowing that it will be rejected,” Limon’s letter said.
Earlier Thursday, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition for the hearing to be scrapped on the grounds that the short document from Netanyahu’s lawyers made a mockery of the legal process.
Responding to Limon’s letter of rejection, Netanyahu called the decision “sad,” and said years of leaks about the case had turned it into a “drumhead court martial.”
“The right thing would have been to fix that situation by opening the doors of the hearing to the wider public, so they would be exposed to all of the facts and not just the serial leaks,” he said.
In his request for the live broadcast earlier in the day, Netanyahu said the move would counter “a deluge of biased, partial leaks,” from the investigations into him.
“The time has come for the public to hear everything. Including my side, in a complete and full manner — without mediators, without censorship and without distortions,” the prime minister said in a video posted online.
Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu, pending the hearing, in February. The premier denies all the allegations against him and has labeled them bids by his enemies to remove him from office, which he has held for a total of over 13 years, the longest in Israeli history.
His hearing comes as lawmakers in the 22nd Knesset, who were elected last week in a vote that deepened Israel’s months-long political gridlock, are set to be sworn into the parliament.