Supreme Court rejects petition to silence police in Netanyahu probes

‘No reason to interfere,’ says ruling, paving way for investigators to publicize indictment recommendations, after year-long graft probes into suspicions against PM

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a welcoming ceremony for his appointment, held at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a welcoming ceremony for his appointment, held at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a petition seeking to prevent police from recommending indictments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following two parallel year-long probes into his alleged corruption.

“There is no reason to interfere,” read the court ruling on an appeal that had been filed by right-wing attorney Yossi Fuchs.

The move paves the way for police to file indictment recommendations with the state prosecution, a step reported to be planned for the coming days, with Netanyahu expected to face at least one charge of bribery.

In the so-called Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, reportedly including hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

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

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

On Sunday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit instructed police to wait until the Supreme Court ruling before submitting their conclusions regarding the graft investigations.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks during a farewell ceremony for outgoing Supreme Court chief justice Miriam Naor, in Jerusalem on November 6, 2017. (Flash90)

In December, the Knesset passed a law that prevents police, upon wrapping up their investigations and handing over the files to prosecutors, from commenting on whether there is an evidentiary basis for indictment. The legislation applies only to probes of public officials and other high-profile cases, but not retroactively, meaning that it does not cover the Netanyahu investigations.

Mandelblit ordered the delay, after Fuchs filed a petition last week asking the court to prevent police from publishing their recommendations in the Netanyahu probes until a hearing is held on an earlier petition by Fuchs that aims to apply the new law retroactively.

Earlier Monday, the state had responded to the petition, saying it would place “unprecedented limits on standard police procedure,” claiming that they do not make recommendations, but rather summarize the evidence they have collected.

Speaking to The Times of Israel immediately after the court ruling, Fuchs said he was disappointed in the outcome, but pleased with the state response, which he believed would effect the police summary.

“Yes, they may say whether they think there is enough evidence to bring him to trial, but I doubt that we will see the sort of public recommendations some had expected,” he said.

Speaking before the court ruling, Fuchs had defended his petition as a demand for “justice,” but also admitted it was a bid to protect Netanyahu’s right-wing government.

“This appeal is something I think is right. I’m a fighter for justice and I believe that there is a strong legal ground for my claims,” the American-born lawyer said.

“If Netanyahu needs to be indicted, the attorney general must make a decision to bring charges against him,” Fuchs explained, “but he needs to be able to make that decision without public pressure based on police recommendations. And the law agrees with me.”

Israel’s Basic Law: Government states that only Mandelblit has the authority to decide to indict a sitting prime minister.

Legal Forum for Israel chairman Yossi Fuchs. (Courtesy)

According to Fuchs, “that’s no accident.” Quoting recently deceased former Supreme Court Justice Justice Eliyahu Winograd, the lawyer said that police recommendations “point a gun” at the attorney general, and prevent him from making a decision “with a clear mind.”

If police recommend indicting the prime minister, the attorney general will be accused of being weak or subservient to the political echelon if he chooses not to press charges, Fuchs said.

Indeed, anti-corruption demonstrators have held regular protests outside Mandelblit’s home, accusing him of dragging out the investigations into the prime minister. The attorney general has repeatedly justified the time they are taking — over a year — saying that the investigations must be thorough and not rushed.

Fuchs however, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Efrat and has in the past sought a Knesset seat both for the Netanyahu’s Likud and for the national-religious Jewish Home party, admitted that the law was not his only consideration.

“I am clearly an activist within the nationalist parties and, yes, I have an interest in the government lasting and not being brought down. I hope this petition can prevent that,” he admitted, acknowledging his work as chairman of the Legal Forum for Israel, a right-wing legal advocacy group. “From my perspective, this is patriotic.”

The court ruling in favor of the police comes after Netanyahu lashed out at the force last week, over their handling of the two ongoing criminal investigations into his alleged corruption.

The criticism was sparked by Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, saying that officers investigating Netanyahu had been followed and put under pressure.

In a rare interview on the cases to Hadashot news’s investigative program “Uvda,” Alsheich claimed that “powerful figures” had hired private investigators to collect information about the police investigators in the Netanyahu cases, apparently to personally discredit them should they recommend indictments.

Netanyahu responded by calling for an immediate probe into Alsheich’s “false and outrageous” suggestions, and also said that the claims cast doubt on the objectivity of the case officers, as well as on the purity of the entire investigation into him.

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