AG Denies Netanyahu's Request to Investigate Media Leaks Linked to Probes Against Him

Avichai Mendelblit tells the prime minister's lawyers that freedom of the press and the public's right to know were among the considerations behind his decision

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at an event at Bar-Ilan University, March 28, 2019.
Nir Keidar

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit rejected a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's lawyers to launch a probe into materials leaked from his pending graft cases.

Among the reasons Mendelblit cited were considerations “that touch on freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the public’s right to know, which are among the basic principles for the existence of a democratic regime.”

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A little over a week ago, Netanyahu — likely alluding to several leaks of audio recordings from the investigations into the corruption cases he is embroiled in — accused the police of trying to "threaten my immediate environment, and thereby stopping me from reacting to the onslaught of criminal leaks against me that has been going on incessantly. Why isn't this being investigated?" 

Gil Limon, an aide to Mendelblit who signed the letter to the lawyers, also noted “the unique nature of such investigations and their complexity," which he said was "due, among other things, to the need to maintain journalistic confidentiality as well as the scope of the people exposed to the information.” He stated that since the suspicions don’t point to specific people, launching an investigation would cast aspersion on a large number of people and require using invasive tools against them.

“This is even more true regarding some of what was published and mentioned in your last letter in May, regarding the release … of transcripts and admissions from the investigations,” the letter continued, referring to items that were reported after the investigative materials had already been given to the suspects’ defense attorneys. Limon said that it’s possible the defense attorneys gave the information to others, “which would make it very difficult to get at the truth.”

Netanyahu’s attorneys had asked that lie-detector test tests be used to identify the leakers. Limon cited three situations in which lie detectors can be used under the attorney general’s guidelines: An administrative test conducted by state authorities when legally mandated to determine whether a candidate is suitable for a job with a security classification; as part of a criminal or disciplinary investigation, when suspicions are focused on a specific person and he agrees to be tested; and when protecting a vital public interest. Limon said that the situation at hand doesn’t match any of these criteria, and so there is no place for conducting the test.

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A statement issued on behalf of the prime minister said: “The attorney general’s assertion that it’s impossible to identify the sources of the leaks because the defense attorneys also have the investigative material ignores the fact that the prime minister’s complaint was submitted in January 2019, several months before the materials were given to the prime minister’s lawyers. Too bad the prime minister’s complaint was not examined then.”