Netanyahu Pays One Lawyer, Rest of Legal Team Mulls Resignation Over Pending Fees

Attorney collects evidence material against prime minister in corruption probes after refusing to accept them earlier this week from attorney general, announce intention to set date for hearing

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a weekly cabinet meeting, Jerusalem, May 12, 2019.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attorney gathered the evidence material in the corruption cases against him on Tuesday, following a temporary agreement regarding his fees, which until recently remained unpaid.

Ofer Hadad, one of Netanyahu's lawyers, said that the evidence materials were given to representatives of the prime minister, and alerted the attorney general that they intend to set a date for a hearing by next Monday.

In response to an inquiry by Haaretz, Netanyahu's spokesperson, Ofer Golan, said the prime minister paid the fees himself. The payments for the rest of Netanyahu's legal team have not been settled, and they are considering their resignation.

Golan said Netanyahu and his lawyer reached a temporary agreement "in order to overcome the initial failure in regards to the evidence materials."

According to Golan, "the prime minister stands for his right to receive financial aid for his legal defense, like any private citizen, against the massive sums that the state spent on this matter."

On Sunday, Netanyahu's lawyers refused to accept evidence material sent to them by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. The materials on the three cases Netanyahu is a suspect in have been available to his attorneys for a month, who so far refrained from collecting them because they had yet to be paid.

"There is a great discrepancy between claims of the sheer breadth of the materials or the amount of time necessary to study them, and the fact it comes from those who for a long time chose not to receive them," Mendelblit said in his letter, adding that he would now "weigh his options."

In his letter, Mendelblit said that in light of his attempt to transfer the evidence, Netanyahu's lawyer should schedule a date for the hearing by May 20.

Netanyahu's attorney, however, said in response that he never received the material. The courier arrived with no prior coordination and did not leave the hard disk with the core of the investigation material, wrote Navot Tel-Zur to Mendelblit. Tel-Zur said he was not in the office when the courier arrived, and the courier chose not to leave the documents behind.

On Saturday, it was reported that Mendelblit is expected to announce he will consider Netanyahu's lawyers request to postpone the hearing only after they collect all evidence materials against him.

After the evidence is gathered, Mendelblit is expected to agree to postpone the hearing until the holiday season in September.

The Justice Ministry noted this weekend that Netanyahu is the one who asked for the postponement in the delivery of the contents of the investigation until after the election, over his concern that the contents will be leaked and serve as fodder for his political rivals. Mendelblit, the Justice Ministry added, accepted his request.

Last month the attorney general clarified to Netanyahu's lawyers that they have to coordinate a date for the hearing soon, and warned that if they don't, it will be interpreted as the premier forgoing his right for a hearing. In such a case, Mendelblit heeded, he would file an indictment against Netanyahu based solely on the draft indictment.

Regarding the prime minister's failure to pay his attorneys, Mendelblit wrote: "This does nothing to justify a delay in transferring the core of the investigation materials to the prime ministers or people on his behalf, and it can't affect the timing of the hearing in any way."

Netanyahu's attorneys had requested that the hearing be postponed by several months, so that the permits committee at the State Comptroller’s Office can decide on Netanyahu's request to use external funding to pay his defense team. The attorneys wrote that Netanyahu is interested in fulfilling his right to a hearing, but that they were given insufficient time to prepare for it.

Mendelblit gave attorneys of the prime minister and other suspects three months since the date of general election. The defense attorneys all agree that this was insufficient, considering the scope of evidence in the cases. The lawyers of Shaul and Iris Elovitch, suspect in bribery case 4000, have also requested to postpone the hearing until the end of September. Netanyahu's attorneys argued that the request for postponement is reasonable, as Netanyahu– unlike Elovitch, Arnon Mozes and Zeev Rubinstein – is involved in three cases and not one.