Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has decided to take a harder line on a plea bargain with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now intends to demand that he consent explicitly to a court ruling that his crimes involved moral turpitude.
Consequently, Mendelblit is now ruling out a possibility raised in his negotiations with Netanyahu’s lawyers, under which the prosecution would argue for a moral turpitude finding but Netanyahu would be free to argue against it, with the decision being left up to the court. Such a finding would effectively bar Netanyahu from politics for the next seven years.
The attorney general reached this decision following a meeting with top prosecutors Monday evening at which they criticized the emerging outline of a deal as too lenient. He was also influenced by public criticism of the deal.
Mendelblit argues that given the great public interest in the case and the seriousness of the charges, a moral turpitude finding is essential and shouldn’t be left to chance.
He is also stiffening his sentencing demands. He is now insisting on seven to nine months of community service, up from the three to six months he initially demanded.
Netanyahu ordered his lawyers on Monday to resume negotiations on a plea bargain after a two-week hiatus. Nevertheless, he has so far refused to accept Mendelblit’s three conditions for a deal – the moral turpitude finding, community service and an admission of breach of trust in two of the three cases, known as Case 1000 and Case 4000. The third case (Case 2000) would be dropped, as would the bribery charge in Case 4000.
Earlier this week, sources close to Mendelblit said the chances of reaching a deal before Mendelblit leaves office at the end of the month are “negligible.” Even if Netanyahu accepts all three conditions in principle, one source said, it’s unlikely that the details of the agreement could be finalized in the next two weeks.
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The main dispute is likely to be which details should remain in the amended indictment to which Netanyahu will confess. The prosecution wants the indictment to stress the severity of his crimes, in part to ensure that the court does issue a finding of moral turpitude.
That, however, could lead the court to reject the sentence as too lenient. The prosecution therefore also plans to demand that Netanyahu pay a fine totaling hundreds of thousands of shekels.
Netanyahu’s lawyers think their client would do better to end the case with a plea bargain, and they doubt it’s possible to avoid a moral turpitude finding. They also think negotiating with Mendelblit is preferable to negotiating with his as yet unknown successor, since that successor will be chosen by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, a bitter political rival.
Nevertheless, if a deal isn’t concluded with Mendelblit, talks are likely to continue under State Prosecutor Amit Aisman, who will serve as acting attorney general until a permanent replacement for Mendelblit is chosen.