Netanyahu Agrees to Leave of Absence if Indicted, Top Likud Member Says as Day Two of Hearing Begins

The PM's lawyers said they would not agree to any plea deal in corruption cases

Netanyahu's lawyer Yosef Ashkenazi arrives at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem, October 3, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

The second day of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pre-indictment hearing began Thursday as Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told Army Radio that the premier agreed to take a temporarily leave of absence if indicted, giving Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz expanded authority. 

During coalition negotiations, President Reuven Rivlin suggested a model in which the government would be split evenly between the two blocs, Netanyahu's Likud and Kahol Lavan with Gantz seeing his authority expanded should the prime minister be suspended.

>> Read more: 3 cases, 4 days and dozens of lawyers: Netanyahu's pre-indictment hearing beginsThis is how Netanyahu's attorneys will try to save him from trial

"There is a great deal of attention at the attorney general's office...I believe we will need this whole day to finish our arguments in Case 4000 and continue next week to the upcoming cases," Netanyahu's lawyer Yosef Ashkenazi said Thursday. 

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The first two days of the hearing have been focused on Case 4000, which centers on suspicions Netanyahu acted to benefit media mogul Shaul Elovitch in return for favorable news coverage. The prime minister could be charged with bribery and fraud and breach of trust in this case. Early next week the hearing will center around Cases 1000 and 2000 – gifts in exchange for political favors, and legislation in exchange for favorable coverage, respectively.

Amit Hadad, also on Netanyahu's defense team, said that there is new evidence despite officials in the hearing room telling Haaretz that no new evidence has been presented. 

"We are sure that at the end of the day, when these four days are finished, these files must be closed and they will close," Hadad added. 

As the hearing at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem concluded Wednesday, one of Netanyahu's attorneys said that "the attorney general was very attentive to the arguments we presented, which were very detailed, comprehensive, and based on substantial new material that contradicts the allegations against the prime minister."

Before the hearing Wednesday morning, Netanyahu's attorneys said that a plea deal, which has been rumored but not officially presented, is not on the agenda.

At the head of the Justice Ministry's team stands the man who will ultimately decide whether or not to file an indictment – Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. He will be joined by State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, the lead prosecutor on Netanyahu cases Liat Ben-Ari, Deputy State Prosecutor Nurit Litman, and the Deputy Attorney Generals Raz Nizri and Amit Merari, among others.