Israel's AG Says He Won't Delay Netanyahu Probe Even if Elections Called

Avichai Mendelblit says that 'there's a link among the issues in the various cases' of corruption Netanyahu is embroiled in, but still 'no date' for investigation's end

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office.
Gali Tibbon/AP

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit does not intend to delay the investigation into the corruption cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even if early elections are called.

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Speaking at the Knesset’s Constitution Committee on Wednesday, Mendelblit said, “There’s no reason to hold up the investigation due to elections. That wouldn’t be serious or professional. We’re moving on.”

The attorney general also said there’s a feeling that the Knesset is trying to undermine the law enforcement system. “At times it seems the law enforcement system is standing alone,” he said, pledging to continue with the struggle against corruption.

Mendelblit, who came to report on his office’s activity, told the committee that the cases against Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu are complicated.

In one case Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving expensive illicit benefits worth about 1 million shekels (about $275,000) over a period of years from wealthy benefactors. In another, Netanyahu allegedly tried to strike a deal that would have provided him with positive coverage in Israel’s largest newspaper in exchange for hurting its freebie rival, Israel Hayom.

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Mendelblit said the process is taking time because of the effect each investigation has on the others. He could give no date for the inquiry’s end, saying “there is no date, there won’t be a date – there’ll be one when we finish the investigation.”

Israel's attorney general, Avichai Mendelblit.
Olivier Fitoussi

Mendelblit said he knew of no talks to reach an agreement or plea bargain regarding the indictment against Sara Netanyahu, who has been charged with systematic fraud worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.

The agreement with a man who turned state’s evidence has prolonged the investigation, he said. “You have to examine every point the witness spoke of, to check if he spoke the truth. Sometimes you get a great deal of material that requires going to numerous other witnesses and then you must also question the suspects. Should we forego an agreement with a state’s witness because it will prolong investigations? Finding out the truth is above everything else.”

Mendelblit strongly rejected arguments that the law enforcement authorities have been mobilized as one against the suspects in the investigations. He said a state’s evidence agreement was signed “to ascertain the truth. And due to the public interest of looking into a suspicion against the prime minister, we’re willing to pay the price.”

“Any attempt to delegitimize the state’s-witness institution is tantamount to an attempt to prevent finding out the truth,” he said

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Mendleblit said state’s witnesses have shed light not only on the Bezeq-Walla case, but on the other cases under investigation as well. When the police submitted their recommendations in the illicit gifts and the Yedioth Ahronoth graft cases, “new information was received, on whose basis I decided to question the prime minister on the Bezeq-Walla graft case.” In the latter case, evidence suggests an improper quid pro quo relationship between Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch, whose Bezeq corporation owns the Walla news site.

“There’s a link among the issues in the various cases. There are joint witnesses. The state’s witnesses in the Bezeq-Walla case are testifying about the other cases as well. This requires completing the investigations in the other cases too,” he said.

He suggested that all those calling to indict before the investigation is over “wait. Suspects have rights too. We’re not persecuting anyone and we won’t be swayed by tweets and noises. Fighting corruption is critical in Israel. The struggle against corruption isn’t carried out with one swipe of the sword. I can assure you that we’ll do our part in the best and most honest way.”

In response to MKs’ questions, Mendelblit addressed the possibility of conflict of interests and apparent obstruction of the investigation due to his relations with the prime minister.

“There are no tete-a-tetes on private business. I don’t go to private meetings on things that aren’t professional. We have a private work meeting every week, attended by other people of Netanyahu’s,” he said.

“The prime minister asks to discuss some things with me privately. If he had wanted to obstruct the investigation, there are hundreds of opportunities. There’s a red phone, there are security cabinet meetings. I don’t usually go to cabinet meetings, but the security cabinet has important legal questions,” he said.