Netanyahu's Co-defendant Has Been Trying to Negotiate a Plea Bargain

While Netanyahu sought favorable coverage in his co-defendant's publication, the publisher hoped to limit the circulation of a competing newspaper, the indictments state

Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz
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Arnon Mozes at the Tel Aviv District Court in December
Arnon Mozes at the Tel Aviv District Court in DecemberCredit: Moti Milrod
Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz

Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, a co-defendant in the corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been trying to negotiate a plea bargain with prosecutors.

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Mozes has been charged with bribery in what is known as Case 2000; in that case, Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust.

Haaretz has learned that attorneys Navit Negev and Iris Niv Sabag, who represent Mozes, have spoken with officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office but have not reached an agreement.

It is thought that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and the prosecution strongly oppose reducing the charge against Mozes to a lesser offense, such as abetting breach of trust, on the grounds that it would render meaningless the charges against Netanyahu in the cases. According to a source familiar with the details of the talks, a deal might be worked out in the future, on condition Mozes pleads guilty to a count of bribery. 

The indictments against Netanyahu and Mozes in Case 2000 state that despite their “deep antagonism,” beginning in 2008 they held three series of meetings in which they discussed advancing their interests: Netanyahu sought favorable coverage in the publications of the Yedioth Ahronoth group, while Mozes sought to restrict a competing newspaper – Yisrael Hayom, a free daily owned by the Jewish-American businessman and political donor Sheldon Adelson. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on WednesdayCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

“In one of the meetings, held toward the end of 2014 and in advance of the election to the 20th Knesset, the defendant Mozes offered the defendant Netanyahu a bribe,” the indictment says. The publisher proposed “bringing about a considerable change for the better in the line and manner of coverage of the defendant Netanyahu and his family ... and a change for the worse in the manner of the coverage of his poetical rivals ... in a way that would ensure the continuation of the defendant Netanyahu’s position as prime minister over time, and this in return for the defendant Netanyahu making use of his influence as prime minister to advance legislation that would impose restrictions on Yisrael Hayom and bring about significant economic benefits for the defendant Mozes and his businesses.” 

According to the indictments, “The defendant Netanyahu did not refuse the offer of a bribe and did not end the conversation with the defendant Mozes because of it ... [and] went on to conduct with the defendant Mozes a long and detailed conversation about the elements of the proposal and showed him a presentation according to which there was a real possibility that he would make use of his governmental powers in order to advance legislation beneficial to the defendant Mozes.”

At Netanyahu’s request, his former bureau chief Ari Harow recorded his conversations with Mozes; the recordings found their way to Mendelblit in the wake of a separate investigation against Harow, who subsequently agreed to turn state’s evidence.

Ari Harow and Benjamin Netanyahu in 2008Credit: Daniel Bar On

Prosecutors were nearly unanimous in seeing in the recorded conversations a clear offer of a bribe. Former State Prosecutor Shai NItzan and Liat Ben-Ari, the lead prosecutor in Netanyahu’s trials, believed that Netanyahu should also be charged with bribery. However, Mendelblit accepted the prime minister’s claim that he had never really meant to keep his promise to Mozes, and the attorney general decided to charge him with breach of trust.

Haaretz has learned that the prosecution is also opposed to amending the charge against Mozes to a lesser offense because the charge against Netanyahu attributes to him the understanding that the publisher was offering him a bribe. By nevertheless continuing the negotiations with Mozes, it is claimed, Netanyahu “sent a message to the effect that offers of bribes are a tool that can be used for purposes of advancing  mutual interests of senior public officials and businesspeople and that there is nothing wrong with bribery deals. Thus, an act of breach of trust was committed that is significantly injurious to the public’s trust in public servants and its elected representatives and the latter’s integrity.” The concern is that withdrawing from the bribery charge against Mozes would lead to the collapse of the prosecution’s narrative against Netanyahu in Case 2000. 

The assessment is that despite the differences between the sides, they will make another attempt to come to an agreement. In such a case, Mozes could expect a lighter punishment than the one to which he would be sentenced if he is convicted in the absence of a deal. For the most part, in cases with multiple defendants, the first of them to sign a plea bargain is accorded a lighter punishment. Thus, in the Holyland case, the prosecution agreed that Shula Zaken, Ehud Olmert’s office manager, would spend 11 months in prison for accepting a bribe. She retracted her agreement to the plea bargain and ultimately signed it only after she was convicted. The judge in that case, David Rozen, said at the time that she deserved a custodial sentence of at least five years.

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