Supreme Court chief calls for probe of ‘worrying’ leaks from Netanyahu case

Justice Hayut criticizes AG for failure to investigate leaks, which she says harm defendants and prosecution; Mandelblit, Ohana trade blows over charges against PM

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at the court in Jerusalem on May 4, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)
Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at the court in Jerusalem on May 4, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut said Monday that leaks to the media from the cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were a worrying phenomenon that damages the accused as well as the prosecution and erodes public trust in the system. She called on the attorney general to consider a probe into the matter.

“These are not rare events,” she noted. Leaks of details from the police investigations into Netanyahu’s affairs and from prosecutors’ subsequent deliberations as they weighed pressing charges against the premier were exceedingly common, leading to complaints from Netanyahu.

Hayut was speaking at a hearing on a petition by Shaul Elovitch and wife, Iris — both defendants in one of the Netanyahu cases — seeking to investigate leaks of investigation materials relating to them.

Shaul and Iris Elovitch are suspected of having engaged in an illicit quid pro quo relationship with Netanyahu, under which Elovitch, once the majority shareholder in Israel’s biggest telecom firm Bezeq, and the owner of the Walla website, ensured favorable coverage of Netanyahu by the news site in exchange for regulatory decisions benefiting Bezeq,

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing in Case 4000, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

“We express serious chagrin” about the leaks, Hayut said. “There is a worrying phenomenon here whose damage…[extends] to the accused… it hurts public trust and the prosecution itself. Not to mention the harm to the judicial process that should take place in court.”

She criticized Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit for failing to order a probe into the leaks. “Is it not time to act? To inquire?” she said. “It is grave in our eyes that nothing has been done.”

She called on Mandelblit to “consider a preliminary probe into the leaks.”

The prime minister is on trial in three cases, charged with fraud and breach of trust in all three, and bribery in the case that also concerns Elovitch. He denies any wrongdoing.

In January of 2019 Netanyahu’s attorneys published a letter they’d sent to Mandelblit saying the leaks caused “grave harm” to their client’s basic rights.

In November of that year, Mandelblit rejected calls to investigate leaks to the media. While stressing that he viewed such leaks “severely,” Mandeblit said “there is no room to check or investigate the incidents.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends an event at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem on February 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Former state attorney Shai Nitzan explained at the time that the justice system, including the Supreme Court, was wary of opening investigations into leaks to the media because it would require investigating journalists and would impact freedom of the press.

Also on Monday Mandelblit answered his critics in the government and spoke out against what he said was a “campaign to cast doubt over my work and the prosecution’s work.”

“Those behind the campaign hope it will influence me or my decisions, which is a very bad mistake by them. We are isolated from outside noises,” Mandelblit said at a toast at the Justice Ministry ahead of the Jewish New Year.

Mandelblit and the prosecution and police have come under harsh attack by Netanyahu and his allies over the charges leveled against the premier.

Netanyahu has accused police, prosecutors, the left and the media of complicity in what he claims is an attempt to oust him from office.

On Saturday Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who is in charge of police, attacked law enforcement authorities and the state prosecution as “corrupt.” He said that “an indictment against an elected official, certainly a prime minister, is an attack on democracy, thwarting the voter’s choice.”

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana holds a press conference in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020. (Flash90)

Mandelblit responded Monday: “The very claim that there are those who are above the law and should be shielded from criminal prosecution is itself damaging to democracy.”

Mandelblit and Ohana clashed often and hard when the latter, a close ally of Netanyahu, served as acting justice minister between June 2019 and May 2020.

Ohana swiftly retaliated Monday, saying the justice system was using “lies and leaks, extortion of witnesses, an avoidance of probes that could help the prime minister… They’re certain the public is stupid.”

Attacks by the prime minister and his allies on the justice system intensified over the past week after allegations surfaced that a probe into the death of a Bedouin Israeli man in 2017 had been covered up over fears it could give ammunition to critics of the corruption probe into Netanyahu.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu apologized to the family of Yaqoub Abu Al-Qia’an for the government having portrayed him as a terrorist after he was shot to death by police in 2017. Netanyahu also said that police had tried to cover up their mistakes in Abu Al-Qia’an’s case in order to harm the premier.

On Thursday, former state prosecutor Nitzan vehemently denied he had attempted to suppress information  the claim. He accused Netanyahu of lying to the public and defended his own decisions in the case.

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