Netanyahu's Pre-indictment Hearing Won't Be Delayed, Israel's Attorney General Says

The prime minister's lawyers refuse to collect the massive evidence files until arrears fees are paid, but Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit says the preliminary hearing must take place by July 10 regardless

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

Netanyahu's pre-indictment must take place by July 10 and cannot be postponed, Israel's attorney general said Sunday.

Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said the preliminary hearing for the bribery and corruption cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must take place in mid-July as planned, despite complaints by his lawyers that they haven't been paid and therefore require additional time.

At Netanyahu’s request, Mandelblit had agreed that the prosecution wouldn’t hand the evidence over to the defense attorneys before the general election, held Aparil 9, since Netanyahu was afraid the material would leak and be used against him during the campaign.

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With the election now over, his lawyers are supposed to retrieve the evidence and start preparing. However, they haven’t been paid for their services to date, and have refused to resume their work until they are.

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In a letter sent to Netanyahu's attorneys on Sunday, Mandelblit said that the payment issue is not under the purview of the attorney general and does not justify delays in the scheduling of the hearing.

Mandelblit also said that the attorneys must schedule the day of the hearing by May 10 and that the hearing itself must take place no later than July 10.

At the end of February, Mendelblit announced his decision to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, pending a hearing. The hearing is the last step before Netanyahu stands trial, if at least some of the charges are upheld. 

Netanyahu wants to raise $2 million from two American businessmen – his cousin Nathan Milikowsky and his friend Spencer Partrich – to pay his lawyers. But the special government permits committee that must approve any government official’s request to accept money from outside sources has rejected his request twice.

Yet Netanyahu says that even if this sum is approved, it wouldn’t cover the costs for the hearing's preparation. Instead, it would all go to pay his lawyers for the work they have already done in previous months. 

In the past, pre-indictment hearings in cases of a similar scope have dragged on for more than a year.

Once Netanyahu’s hearing is over, Mendelblit will reconvene the approximately 20 prosecutors he has consulted on the case and make a final decision on whether to leave the indictment unchanged, soften the charges or scrap them altogether.