Attorney General Says He Knew Nothing of Talks Between Netanyahu, Media Mogul

The negotiations took place during Avichai Mendelblit's tenure as cabinet secretary in Netanyahu's government.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Avichai Mendelblit, 2015.
Marc Israel Sellem

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said on Monday he knew nothing about negotiations held between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes during his term as cabinet secretary in Netanyahu’s government. 

Police are investigating whether Netanyahu and Mozes negotiated a deal in which the prime minister would receive favorable coverage in Yedioth in exchange for cutting back on the extent of the commercial activity of the competing, pro-Netanyahu freebie daily Israel Hayom.

In responding to a query by Haaretz, Mendelblit noted that during his tenure, which ended in February 2016, he dealt “only with professional issues related to the workings of the government, as well as with professional tasks given to him by the government.”

Asked if he knew about the meetings between Netanyahu and Mozes, whether from the participants or by chance, he replied that he didn’t. He first learned about the meetings after becoming attorney general and head of law enforcement agencies, said the response.

Also on Monday, political activist Eldad Yaniv has approached the head of the police intelligence and investigation unit, Maj. Gen. Meni Yitzhaki, asking him to gather testimony from Mendelblit about the case.

“The events related to these two cases [against Netanyahu] occurred while the attorney general was cabinet secretary," said the letter he wrote through attorneys Yuval Yoaz and Doron Bareket. "It is unreasonable to assume that he was unaware of these actions. His job as secretary required him to be close to the prime minister for long hours. Most of the meetings with Mozes took place from the prime minister’s bureau. It’s unreasonable to assume that Mendelblit did not deal with the Israel Hayom bill, including the coordination with coalition members regarding voting on that bill. The prime minister stated that the preliminary approval of this bill was the cause for dismissing the 19th Knesset and moving up the elections for the 20th. All of this happened while Mendelblit was managing the government’s operations.”

Mendelblit had previously recused himself from handing the case of the former head of Netanyahu’s staff, Gil Shefer, who is now under investigation for sexual offenses. This was due to their previous acquaintance while working in Netanyahu’s bureau. However, he is actively involved in the affairs of Netanyahu’s family. As Mendelblit was transitioning from cabinet secretary to his new appointment, this issue came up for the committee that picked him for the role. Committee members did not see it as a hindrance to his appointment, except for former Supreme Court justice Asher Grunis, who believed there should have been a cooling-off period.