Attorney General Delays Netanyahu's Pre-indictment Hearing Until October

Netanyahu's lawyers had asked for hearings to be postponed for a year ■ AG says such a delay would harm public interest

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem May 19, 2019.
Ariel Schalit/Pool via REUTERS

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit agreed Wednesday to postpone Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing until October, despite criticism that the prime minister is trying to arrange immunity for himself with the help of the new governing coalition he is forming.

The hearing will be held on October 2 and 3. If necessary, an additional day in court will be scheduled for the following week.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu’s lawyers asked Mendelblit to put off the hearing in the three corruption cases against the prime minister for at least a year because of the amount of material to be sifted through to properly prepare him.

“There is no justification for the hearing to be scheduled – as you requested – for a year after the collection of the investigative material, something that would harm the crucial public interest of a swift decision in the cases,” Mendelblit responded.

Monday was the deadline Mendelblit had set for coordinating a date for the hearing, but an attorney for Netanyahu, Amit Hadad, only collected the evidentiary material last week after an interim arrangement to pay his fee was made.

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On Monday, Hadad said Netanyahu should receive more time because three cases were in question: the lavish-gifts affair and the two cases in which Netanyahu allegedly offered benefits for favorable news coverage.

In February, Mendelblit decided to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the three cases, pending a hearing. In Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of providing regulatory concessions to Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications company, in exchange for favorable coverage from Bezeq’s news website, Walla.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of a similar deal with the publisher of the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Arnon Mozes. In Case 1000, the prime minister is alleged to have accepted gifts from wealthy businessmen in return for political favors.

Aside from Netanyahu, the requests to delay the hearings of others in the corruption cases were partially granted: Mozes as well as Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris will have their hearings in mid-August.  

'Timeframe is unreasonable'

Last week, Netanyahu's attorney Hadad said the quantity of material in the files was enormous. “The time frame given for the hearing is unreasonable,” he said. “Even if the issue of funding had been resolved months ago, we still would have asked for the date to be put off.”

According to Netanyahu spokesman Ofer Golan, the files were collected by Hadad after an arrangement was made to pay an advance on his fee, but no such arrangement has been made for the other attorneys: Navot Tel Zur, Tal Shapira and Pinhas Rubin. For now, Hadad is representing Netanyahu by himself.

The evidence in the three cases against the prime minister has been available to the defense attorneys since April 10, the day after Israel’s general election. All the lawyers in the two favorable-news-coverage affairs agree that three months between accessing the evidence and the hearing is insufficient.

The amount of time allotted the defense attorneys in the Netanyahu cases is shorter than in other big cases against public figures. The lawyers for the head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Avigdor Lieberman, received nine months to prepare for his first hearing in the case involving the ambassador to Belarus that took place in January 2012. The hearings ended in May that year and a decision in the case was made in December.

In the Yisrael Beiteinu corruption case, a former deputy minister, Faina Kirschenbaum, was summoned to a hearing in September 2016, but the first hearing only took place in May 2017.

In the Holyland corruption case, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked to delay his hearing several times until he finally gave up his right to a hearing. Nine months passed between the prosecution’s announcement that it planned to charge Olmert and the indictment.