Netanyahu Downplays Imminent Bribery Charge: 'A House of Cards About to Collapse'

Attorney general expected to charge the prime minister with breach of trust in two other cases

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is silhouetted as he arrives to deliver a statement to the media at the Knesset, Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem July 22, 2013.
REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected to announce Thursday his decision on whether to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, subject to a hearing, in the three criminal investigations pending against him.

In Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of providing regulatory concessions to Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecommunications, in exchange for favorable coverage from Bezeq’s news website, Walla, Mendelblit is expected to announce an indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In response, Netanyahu said Wednesday that “the accusations of corruption are absurd, the prime minister didn’t give to or receive anything from Elovitch.”

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Netanyahu’s office added: “This house of card will come crashing soon.”

In Case 1000, in which the prime minister is alleged to have accepted gifts from wealthy business figures in violation of the law, the charges will be fraud and breach of trust.

Netanyahu corruption scandals

Charges are also expected to be filed in Case 2000, which centers on discussions between the prime minister and Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, allegedly involving favorable news coverage for the prime minister in exchange for policies benefitting the paper. It is not yet clear what charges Mendelblit will file against the prime minister for that case. Mendelblit is also expected to announce plans to charge Mozes in that case.

Mendelblit is expected to announce that the case against Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, part of Case 4000, will be closed, but that Elovitch and his wife, Iris, are to be charged with bribery, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

A request by Netanyahu’s attorneys to put off announcing the decision until after the April 9 general election was dismissed by Mendelblit, who cited “the principle of equality before the law and the public’s right to know about such important decisions.” Mendelblit is expected to stress in his announcement that the decision, which is subject to a hearing at which Netanyahu gets to address the allegations, is not final, to avoid claims of undue influence on the election results.

Mendelblit’s decision comes after months of lengthy discussions that involved 20 senior Justice Ministry officials who dove into the mass of evidence in the cases, which took three years to investigate. Some 140 witnesses gave evidence in the cases, including three who turned state’s evidence – Ari Harow, Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz – and five current or former government ministers – Yair Lapid, Gilad Erdan, Yariv Levin, Zeev Elkin and Tzipi Livni. Numerous journalists also gave evidence, along with four former senior editors of the Walla website and former Yedioth editor Ron Yaron. The opinions of the team of prosecutors who accompanied the investigations, headed by Liat Ben Ari and Jonathan Tadmor, filled 800 pages.

In Case 4000, Netanyahu’s line of defense is similar to that of Elovitch: His line of defense claims no connection between Netanyahu’s actions regarding Bezeq and what went on in Walla’s editorial offices, and that the decisions Netanyahu made regarding the telecom giant when he was communications minister were reasonable, had the support of the ministry’s professionals and were approved by the legal gatekeepers. Netanyahu argues that he signed the documents approving the merger between Bezeq and Yes, both owned by Elovitch, the way he signed many documents in the piles set before him.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at the Knesset, December 3, 2018.
Emil Salman

He also claims that not only did he not get favorable coverage from the Walla news site, as is alleged, but on the contrary, coverage of him was often hostile, consistent with the policy of the owners who wanted fair and balanced coverage.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu argues that it’s permissible to accept gifts from friends. He says he never asked for cigars or champagne from his friend Arnon Milchan because he didn’t need to. “Milchan was swimming in cigars and champagne,” he told journalists. He added that his late attorney, Jacob Weinroth, had allowed him to take gifts from friends. If his wife was asking Milchan or James Packer for gifts on her own, he was not aware of it.

Netanyahu categorically denies that there was a quid-pro-quo relationship between himself and Milchan. As proof he recalled how he fought to close Channel 10 (in which Milchan had a stake) and that as finance minister he had worked to break Milchan’s monopoly in the auto import market.

Another line of defense, which also has come up in Case 2000, is that the investigations against him were discriminatory, because police didn’t similarly question another good friend of Milchan’s, Yair Lapid. In Case 2000, Netanyahu complains that none of the MKs who advanced the Israel Hayom bill (which would have benefited Yedioth Aharonot) were questioned by police. Both he and Mozes also claim, in response to the incriminating recordings of them making commitments to one another, that they were merely toying with each other and neither had any intention of keeping his promises to the other.