Netanyahu Indictment Served to Knesset, Setting Off 30 Days to Ask Lawmakers for Immunity

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit released full list of 333 witnesses in the prime minister's three corruption cases

Benjamin Netanyahu gestures before delivering a statement at the Knesset, December 19, 2018.
Amir Cohen/Reuters

Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit filed on Monday the indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, setting off a 30-day period during which Netanyahu may request lawmakers to grant him immunity from standing trial in three corruption cases.

In his letter, Mendelblit effectively accepts claims by Netanyahu's legal team that the indictment published on November 21 shouldn't count as the starting point of the 30-day period, arguing that it does not specify which court would hear Netanyahu's cases.

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According to Mendelblit, he did so "to avoid any claims on the matter," despite stating that the law is "clear" on the fact that any charges against a sitting prime minister would be filed with the Jerusalem District Court.

The prime minister was charged with bribery, fraud and breach in three corruption cases, dubbed Cases 4000, 2000 and 1000.

The indictment comes after a four-day hearing with Netanyahu's defense team last month, followed by weeks of intensive discussion at the attorney general's offices.

Case 4000.

Netanyahu's attorneys also claimed that in the indictment published last month, the names of witnesses were redacted. Along with his Monday letter, Mendelblit published the full list of 333 witnesses along with their names or affiliation to any firms or governmental bodies involved in the cases.

As leaders of political factions face an ongoing deadlock in coalition talks after Israel's second round of elections within a year on September 17, most Knesset functions are paralyzed, making Netanyahu's chances of passing an immunity proposal unlikely.

According to the Knesset's legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, the Knesset House Committee, which would examine any request for immunity, could be set up immediately if a parliamentary majority voted in favor of it. If it failed to obtain a majority, the trial would likely be postponed, Yinon said on Tuesday. 

If Netanyahu was successful, his immunity would last only until the next Knesset is formed; he would then have to refile for it. If it is not, he would not be able to ask for immunity again, regardless of the electoral situation.  

The immunity proceedings themselves are complex - according to the law, if the committee approves the request for immunity, it is then sent to the Knesset for a vote. The two votes will be open, and will not require a special majority to pass. The Knesset can then grant Netanyahu immunity in all the cases pending against him or only in some of them.

Netanyahu’s request for immunity, like any decision approving it – will have to be based on reasons enshrined in law. The first of these is the argument that the applicant has the right to “essential immunity.” This term applies to offenses that were allegedly committed in the context of the applicant’s role as an MK.

Netanyahu's attorneys prefer that the charges against him be filed with a District Court, with a panel of three justices, who are not necessarily experts in economic regulatory concessions that are at the heart of Case 4000, which is considered the most serious of the three cases. It revolves around an alleged bribery deal between Netanyahu and businessman Shaul Elovich, who controlled the Bezeq telecommunications company and the Walla News site.

Netanyahu's associates are pleased with the attorney general's decision to amend the indictment since it gives the premier an additional two-week period to seek immunity due to what they called Mendelblit's "mistake." In addition, the associates believe District Court judges hold political views more similar to Netanyahu's.         

Case 2000.
Case 1000.