The High Court of Justice ruled Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who is standing trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust – must abide by the conflict of interest agreement drafted by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit forbidding him from handling judicial and law enforcement appointments.
The ruling comes in response to a petition filed by the Movement for Quality Government.
“The situation in which the prime minister serves in his position while an indictment is pending against him for serious ethical crimes is an exceptional situation that requires exceptional adherence to this principle,” wrote Supreme Court President Esther Hayut in the ruling.
"Therefore, a conflict of interest agreement is required that will ensure – both in terms of actual decision-making and public appearance – that personal matters concerning the indictment filed against the prime minister will not influence his role as the head of the executive branch.”
According to the agreement, Netanyahu cannot make decisions concerning appointments in the law enforcement and court systems, or be involved in matters concerning witnesses of the other defendants in his cases, or in legislation that could have an influence on the legal proceedings against him.
Mendelblit clarified that Netanyahu is also barred from handling such matters through other people. “He [Netanyahu] must avoid acting on these matters through other parties on his behalf, and he must avoid using his influence on the people authorized to handle these issues.”
Hayut said that in a previous court ruling, the High Court allowed Netanyahu to serve as prime minister in spite of his criminal trial – because it was possible to ensure appropriate conduct through a conflict of interest agreement.
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Netanyahu’s argument that he does not have to abide by Mendelblit's legal opinion contradicts the court’s rulings, Hayut wrote. She added that such a claim is rejected because it contradicts deep-rooted precedent that the attorney general’s legal opinions on legal matters are binding for the government – unless the court has ruled otherwise, Hayut said.
In November, Hayut and Supreme Court justices Hanan Melcer and Neal Hendel issued a conditional order requiring Mendelblit to explain whether the conflict of interest agreement he had formulated obligates the prime minister as well as Public Security Minister Amir Ohana.
In a hearing held last month on the issue, the justices asked Netanyahu to clarify whether he was responsible for the delay in appointing a new state prosecutor. An official search committee had recommended appointing Haifa District Prosecutor Amit Aisman to the position in November, but the appointment has never been brought before the cabinet for approval. Benny Gantz has recently extended Aisman’s appointment as acting state prosecutor for another four months.