Netanyahu Can't Avoid Criminal Charges, Former State Prosecutor Says

'They weren't bringing this for a birthday or a dinner,' Moshe Lador says of a bribery charge against the premier, asserting that 'it's very unrealistic' he won't be indicted

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens during the 5th trilateral summit with Greece and Cyprus in Be'er Sheva, December 20, 2018.
Ariel Schalit,AP

There’s no realistic possibility that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t be indicted, a former state prosecutor said Saturday.

“Theoretically, anything is possible, but it’s very unrealistic,” Moshe Lador said, speaking at a public forum in Mevasseret Zion, outside of Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, the state prosecution recommended that Netanyahu be charged with taking bribes in two of the corruption investigations being conducted against him.

Lador based his conclusion on Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s closely involvement in the investigations, including signing agreements to turn state’s evidence with three people.

>> Read more: To survive three bribery cases, Netanyahu may push Israel's democracy to the brinkSurrounded on all sides: Netanyahu's indictment is now inevitable | Analysis

“The prosecution’s recommendation didn’t land on the attorney general’s desk out of the blue,” Lador explained. “He’s been sitting at the head of the table for two years, perhaps almost three, and has monitored the police investigators and the prosecutors handling the case. So he’s very familiar with the material, like all the other members of this forum. Thus nothing there ought to be new to him.”

In one case, Netanyahu is suspected of conferring regulatory benefits on the Bezeq telecommunications company in exchange for favorable coverage from Walla, the firm’s news website. In the other, he is suspected of discussing a deal under which the Yedioth Ahronoth daily would provide favorable coverage if he took measures to undermine Yedioth’s main rival, the free daily Israel Hayom.

Lador rejected Netanyahu’s claims that his talks with both media outlets were standard practice between politicians and journalists and that favorable coverage doesn’t constitute a bribe.

“Not everyone does this,” Lador said. “And even if there are meetings between editors in chief and politicians interested in favorable coverage, the moment what you receive from me is conditioned on what I expect from you, this is an unacceptable situation that could easily prove to be bribery.”

Asked by the event’s moderator, the veteran journalist Shalom Yerushalmi, whether this analysis was valid even if, as in the Yedioth case, the alleged deal was never carried out, Lador replied, “If I shoot a man with the intention of hurting him, but he isn’t hurt, am I not committing a crime?” He noted that under Israeli law, attempting to commit a crime is a crime in its own right, even if the actual crime never takes place.

“In the crime of bribery, it’s not at all important for the bribe taker to have done what he promised, and it doesn’t even matter if he never intended to do what he promised,” Lador continued, referring to Netanyahu’s claim that he never intended to carry out the deal with Yedioth. “It’s enough that whoever gave him the bribe assumed and expected that he would then do something to his benefit, even if he didn’t actually do so.”

The third case against Netanyahu, in which prosecutors recommended that he be charged with breach of trust rather than bribery, involved his receipt of expensive gifts from businessmen. It is commonly termed “the gifts case” in Hebrew, but Lador said this name is inappropriate for a case in which goods worth hundreds of thousands of shekels were routinely delivered to the prime minister’s residence.

“They weren’t bringing this for a birthday or a dinner, the way we all sometimes give a bottle of wine or a book,” he said. “Based on what has been reported, the recipients would call and say, ‘Look, the goods are about to run out, so you have to arrange a continued supply.’ I am absolutely not willing to accept that these were gifts. These aren’t gifts.

“None of us is familiar with a situation like this — a regular arrangement for luxuries on demand, via other people, with no connection to the timing, to a holiday, to a bar mitzvah or a wedding. ... This kind of friendship isn’t pure friendship; there’s an interest that’s being supplied continuously by IV.”

What the businessmen gain in exchange, Lador added, is a close relationship with the prime minister. “This friendship gives the businessman stature, stardust,” he said. “But it also gives him an address to which he can turn if he needs it.”