Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit rejected a request from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to obtain additional evidence from the more than 60 witnesses in the criminal investigations pending against the prime minister.
One of the three cases, dubbed Case 2000, involves conversations that Netanyahu had with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes. Law enforcement suspects that the two discussed an arrangement in which Yedioth would provide favorable coverage of the prime minister in exchange for a change in media regulations that would hamper Yedioth's main competitor, the free daily Israel Hayom. That would have allegedly been accomplished by barring Israel Hayom from being distributed for free as it is currently.
The prime minister's lawyers asked the attorney general to order the questioning of 43 Knesset members who supported a bill that would have barred free distribution of Israel Hayom. Netanyahu's legal team also asked Mendelblit to question Knesset members who sponsored legislation limiting distribution of the newspaper and others who purportedly met with Mozes and Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken before receiving favorable coverage.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in Case 2000, claiming that he never intended to proceed with such an arrangement with Mozes. In a statement in reaction to Mendelblit's decision, Netanyahu said: "It's unfortunate that pressure from the left and the media is apparently causing the attorney general to be hasty and announce [a decision to hold] a hearing before the election while the truth will only come to light in the hearing proceedings after the election."
The prime minister's lawyers have also reiterated their demand that Netanyahu be given the opportunity to confront witnesses in the cases whose version of events runs counter to Netanyahu's account of the facts.
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Mendelblit must decide whether or not to indict the prime minister in that case and in two other cases: Case 1000, involving lavish gifts that Netanyahu and his family received from wealthy businessmen, and Case 4000, which focuses on favorable coverage that Netanyahu received from the Walla news website, which is owned by the Bezeq telecommunications firm.
Police suspect that Netanyahu arranged favorable government regulatory policy on behalf of Bezeq in exchange for then-controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch ensuring that Walla provided positive coverage of the prime minister.
Mendelblit has already rejected a request from Netanyahu's lawyers seeking to have any announcement by Mendelblit on whether he intends to indict the prime minster until after the April 9 Knesset election. If Mendelblit decides to file criminal charges against the prime minister, it would be subject to a pre-indictment hearing, which in any event would not be held until after April 9.
In a statement issued by Mendelblit's assistant, Gil Limon, Mendelblit's office said that it was made clear to Netanyahu's lawyers that they did not have complete information about the status of the investigation and that some of the witnesses whom they are seeking to have the attorney general's office question have already provided testimony in the course of the investigation of the cases.
The attorney general did not make do with studying the material in the case prepared by the Tel Aviv district prosecutor's office, Limon wrote, "and instead conducted in-depth examination himself of the raw evidence" as was necessary for him to get "a full understanding of the evidentiary picture."
"It's unfortunate that the attorney general has refused my request to confront the state witnesses as well as my lawyers' request to question dozens of witnesses who have not been questioned," he Netanyahu, witnesses whom he said would prove the justice of his position.
Once a pre-indictment hearing is held after the April 9 election, the accusations against the him will be dispelled, the prime minister said, "as has occurred with allegations against other public figures who emerged untainted after being given the opportunity to defend themselves."
By law, Netanyahu has the right to respond to allegations against him within 30 days of the transfer of the material from an investigation from the police to the prosecutor's office. An announcement of the transfer of the police file in Case 4000 was published in the media, but notice was not officially given to Netanyahu until January 17, meaning that the 30-day period would expire on February 16.
It is only after Mendelblit receives Netanyahu's response that he will issue a formal indictment decision, which is expected in the coming weeks.