Divulging Details of Netanyahu Corruption Case 'Part of Campaign to Pressure Law Enforcement', Israeli AG Says

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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a conference, August 28, 2017
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a conference, August 28, 2017Credit: David Bachar

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit opposed a High Court petition seeking to have him reveal the status of the current investigation into the "submarine affair" (known as Case 3000) in the state's reply. Mendelblit also refused to comment on the petition's request to investigate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Law enforcement authorities cannot reveal at any given moment the findings they have collected and the steps they are taking or intending to take," wrote the state prosecutor, who is subordinate to Mendelblit and represents government authorities in the courts.

"If they were to do so, this would impair their ability to carry out the task assigned to them and at times even thwart their ability to do so. It is clear that this is not the intention of the public's right to know."

The state's reply emphasized that the prime minister is not a suspect in the case and qualified his remarks by saying that this was correct as of February 2017, when a statement on the matter was released.

"The attorney general is aware of the importance of informing the public," the state prosecutor wrote in the reply to the High Court, "and the subject is considered from time to time subject to the needs of the investigation and developments in it. The public was therefore informed of decisions to conduct preliminary inquiries into the 'seacraft case' [Case 3000] and to begin a [formal] investigation into that case.

"On February 27, 2017, it was also disclosed in the case that at that same stage, and in light of the findings gathered, the prime minister is not a suspect in the case. Additional details will be released to the extent possible, in accordance with the professional assessment of law enforcement authorities on the effect of the disclosure on the investigation and its progress, while bearing in mind the balance between the totality of considerations on the issue, including the public's right to know."

The petition was filed last month by Aybee Binyamin, a social activist and one of the organizers of the weekly anti-corruption protests in Petah Tikva, which are aimed at the attorney general. Binyamin sought in his petition to have the state ordered to investigate Netanyahu in the submarine affair in addition to the other investigations that currently include the prime minister. The petition reads in part: "the information known to the public and which is not subject to dispute is sufficient to reach the simple conclusion that, in the matter of the prime minister, 'reasonable suspicion' has formed that requires the opening of a criminal investigation against him.

"The prime minister must be investigated not only because of the principle of equality before the law, but also because of the accumulation of reasonable suspicion in the matter of Case 3000. The prime minister must be included as a suspect in this case so that the entire public will know that no one is above the law. Everything that deserves to be investigated will be investigated, and that nothing will be 'swept' under the carpet." Binyamin asked for an urgent hearing on the petition due to the fear of interfering with the investigation.

The state's response addressed the implied criticism in the petition suggesting that the attorney general had refrained from investigating Netanyahu due to his status as prime minister. "There is no substance to this argument, and it is also inconsistent with the simple reality that the prime minister has been questioned under caution in other cases in which justification has been found for it at the current point in time," the reply reads, referring to investigations into allegations that the Netanyahu family received illicit gifts and that a bribe was discussed between the prime minister and newspaper publisher (Case 1000 and Case 2000, respectively).

The state prosecutor's reply added: "The petition should be seen as part of a campaign designed to exert pressure on law enforcement authorities to take decisions of one kind or another. That must not be permitted."

The petition was referred to State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, who last February ordered that the investigation be upgraded from a preliminary examination to a criminal investigation into the affair. "According to the findings of the investigation thus far, the prime minister is not among the suspects in the affair," a Justice Ministry spokesman said in a statement.

Binyamin further argues in his petition that Netanyahu should be investigated since it has become clear how he bypassed the IDF, the navy and the General Staff and indicated new operational needs in the submarines without military support. Binyamin holds that Mendelblit's managing of the matter is fundamentally unreasonable and requires judicial intervention.

The petitioner commented via his lawyers, Yuval Yoaz and Doron Barkat: "As time passes and evidence piles up that indicates a connection between Netanyahu and the affair, the position of the attorney general, who refuses to see the clear suspicion against Netanyahu, becomes a highly improbable position. Since the petition was filed, there have been two waves of arrests of senior suspects, and new revelations have emerged that reinforce the conclusion that Prime Minister Netanyahu should be questioned under caution."

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