Netanyahu's Lawyers Plan to Put Attorney General on the Stand

Defense team seeks to question Avichai Mendelbilt over the manner he approved to open the probe against Netanyahu

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
Attorney General Avichai Mendelbilt in September.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelbilt in September.Credit: Meged Gozani
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorneys plan to summon Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to testify for the defense in the prime minister's corruption trial.

Netanyahu has been indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate criminal cases.

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Netanyahu's lawyers, Amit Hadad and Boaz Ben Zur, are expected to ask the court to question Mendelblit over the manner he approved to open the probe against the prime minister.

On Monday, a three-judge panel dismissed a request by the premier's attorneys to throw out the indictments against Netanyahu, arguing that Mendelblit did not approve Netanyahu's investigation properly, as stipulated by the Basic Law on the Government.

The judges said they found flaws in the process because Mendelblit gave a verbal approval for opening the investigation against Netanyahu, although the law requires a written approval in such cases.

However, the judges ruled that this was only a “regrettable” procedural flaw and not a fundamental flaw that didn't justify disqualifying evidence. They said that it would be taken into account when determining the verdict.

The defense’s request to summon Mendelbilty not only includes questioning him on approving the investigations, but also on other matters pertaining to the cases against Netanyahu. Witnesses who are asked to testify may refuse, and the judges will determine whether to call them or not.

The lawyers will submit their list of witnesses only after the prosecution finishes presenting all of its evidence and witnesses. Mendelblit’s term ends on January 31, 2022, so if the trial proceeds quickly and if the judges decide he can testify, he might do so as acting attorney general.

The intention to call Mendelblit – who heads the prosecution and oversees the State Prosecutor’s Office – to the witness stand has been planned for a long time.

Only two attorneys general have testified in court in recent decades – Elyakim Rubinstein and Menachem Mazuz, both of whom later became justices of the Supreme Court.

In 2002, Rubinstein objected to being called to the stand in the trial of Yehiam Ohana, who was charged with using forged documents to make false allegations against Supreme Court Justice Theodor Or. Rubinstein asked instead to submit an affidavit, but the court ordered that he testify.

The Jerusalem District Court said on Monday that the next phase of Netanyahu’s corruption trial, the evidentiary stage, has been slated to begin on April 5, and the court will meet three times a week. This means that the court will only hear witnesses after Israel’s March 23 election.

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