In Blow to Netanyahu's Defense, Attorney General Tells Court He Approved Corruption Probe

Mendelblit's office refutes claim by Netanyahu’s lawyers that approvals were handed over retroactively

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in court, May 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in court, May 2020.Credit: Amit Shabi / GPO
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The State Prosecutor's Office submitted on Tuesday approvals granted by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to open an investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces trial in three corruption cases.

The documents were filed with the Jerusalem District Court, in response to a request made by the prime minister’s lawyers as his trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust continues.

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Netanyahu’s lawyers had claimed that the approvals had been granted to state prosecutors retroactively, and the judges agreed that the approvals constitute investigative materials and therefore should be handed over to them.

Mendelblit’s office contests Netanyahu’s claim that the attorney general provided his consent retroactively. “Not only did Mendelblit provide early and timely consent to launch the investigation in each of the three cases, as required by law, but gave additional approval at different stages, relating to dozens of actions relating to these cases, even though by law his approval is only required for opening the investigation,” the statement issued from the State Prosecutor's Office read. “These approvals are documented and dated in detail, written in real time as internal memoranda in the Attorney General’s Office.”

The prime minister’s lawyers took issue with the materials provided and again sought to dismiss Netanyahu’s indictment, telling the court: “The memorandum submitted denigrates the court’s ruling, which was clear: the accuser must provide the approvals in their respective existing formats, neither a memorandum nor a retrospective registration. The memorandum submitted does not comply with the court’s decision and amounts to self-judgment.”

Prosecutor Liat Ben Ari, January 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

In their decision mandating that the prosecution hand over the approvals last week, Judges Rivka Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-am and Oded Shaham wrote: “We don’t accept the position held by the plaintiff in cases 1000, 2000 and 4000 . . . We believe that accused number 1 (Netanyahu) has the procedural right to receive these approvals as requested, as they are considered part of the investigative material as defined by law. We instruct the prosecution to give these documents to the defense in their existing format, for each one of the cases, within seven days.”

However, the judges denied other requests for personal documents relating to state’s witnesses Nir Hefetz and Ari Harow, drafts of agreements with these witnesses and a notebook by state’s witness Shlomo Filber. The latter request had been denied in the past, but Netanyahu’s legal team asked the judges to reconsider this request.

“Given the request to re-examine investigative material, we repeat and rule, following a re-examination, that we have not been convinced that there is sufficient reason to order their handover, in part or in full, to the accused, as these are internal documents, in part confidential, internal correspondence and in light of the prosecution’s declaration that the raw material and results of the investigation have been handed over to the defense,” the judges explained. The last sentence in their ruling appeared in bold: “Given all this, the discussion regarding the investigative materials has been exhausted.”

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