Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected next month to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pending a hearing, on charges of bribery in the Bezeq-Walla news-for-favors case, a senior justice official said.
The official said Mendelblit was inclined to accept the recommendation of the team headed by the prosecutor overseeing the various bribery investigations against Netanyahu, Liat Ben-Ari.
The Bezeq-Walla affair, also known as Case 4000, involves suspicions that Netanyahu, in his additional role as communications minister from 2014 to 2017, intervened with regulators to help Shaul Elovitch’s Bezeq group. In exchange, Elovitch, a long-time friend of Netanyahu’s, ordered Bezeq’s Walla news site to provide favorable coverage of the prime minister and his wife Sara, investigators say.
Mendelblit’s intention to charge Netanyahu next month was first reported by the Israel Television News Company.
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Meanwhile, two-week-long discussions have ended on the so-called lavish-gifts case; a recommendation is in the works to indict Netanyahu in that affair, also known as Case 1000, for fraud and breach of trust.
In the police’s Case 2000, the prime minister allegedly told Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that he would advance legislation to curb distribution of the free daily Israel Hayom in exchange for positive coverage in rival Yedioth. No decision has been made in that case, partly because some members of Mendelblit’s team believe that this bribery case should be dropped.
Even if Mendelblit announces a decision to indict the prime minister, this will not be final but rather a draft indictment to be handed to Netanyahu. It is believed that if Mendelblit’s decision is announced next month, the hearing will only take place after the April 9 general election.
Netanyahu’s lawyers are expected to ask for several months to study the material and prepare for the hearing, before which no final decision will be made.
In his response to attorney Navot Tel-Zur’s letter, Mendelblit’s aide, Gil Limon, wrote that work on the cases won’t be influenced by the election, but Mendelblit is willing to meet with Tel-Zur early next week, “so you can explain your client’s position about the timing” of the decision “in greater depth.” Nevertheless, he added, the meeting will concern only the timing, not the substance of the cases.
In his letter, Limon said the Attorney General’s Office was obeying Mendelblit’s instruction that “there are no grounds for suspending the handling of cases against elected officials or candidates” if police have finished investigating and the cases are merely awaiting a prosecutor’s decision. Though the cases will be handled “with the requisite caution,” he added, prosecutors will be guided “strictly by professional considerations.”