Netanyahu Pleads Not Guilty to Criminal Charges Ahead of Hearing, but Offers No Claims to Back Innocence

Netanyahu's hearing on the three criminal cases against him is scheduled for next week ■ PM sends one page to AG in which he fails to explain his plea, defying procedure

Netanyahu addresses supporters in Tel Aviv on election night, September 18, 2019.
Ofer Vaknin

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was supposed to send a document on Wednesday Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit in which he was expected to outline the basis of his plea before his hearing next week in three corruption cases. Instead, the premier sent one page void of explanations to back his claim of innocence.

Haaretz has learned that the document sent to Mendelblit was presented as an outline broken down according to each case Netanyahu is embroiled in. The documents says that the prime minister denies all of the charges against him without relating to evidence provided to his attorneys.

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On October 2, the prime minister's hearings will begin on Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000 in Mendelblit's office. Netanyahu himself will not be present, as per procedure, but his lawyers will be. On the directive of the state prosecutor, the procedure – which Netanyahu decided not forgo – demands that the prime minister send a document containing the main points of his plea two weeks before the hearing. A declaration from Netanyahu's spokesperson said that his legal counsels intend to attend the hearing and attempt to convince Mendelblit to reject the charges against him.

Mendelblit announced in February that he decided to indict the prime minister, pending the hearing, for fraud, bribery and breach of trust in the three criminal cases.

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In Case 1000, the prime minister is suspected of taking gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan in return for political favors; in Case 2000, he is suspected of striking a deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for favorable coverage in return for legislation to curb a rival newspaper; and in Case 4000, he is suspected of awarding privileges to telecommunications tycoon Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage on his Walla news site.    

The hearings – a lengthy process – will provide Netanyahu's legal counsels with the opportunity to refute the evidence and analysis in the report that accompanies the state's decision to indict.  

The Israeli media has been discussing the possibility that the state will sign a plea deal with Netanyahu, in which he will be convicted of lesser criminal charges and receive a lighter punishment, and be able to finish his political career without a trial.

Recently, the prime minister Netanyahu added senior attorney Ram Caspi to his legal team, but those in his circle and his spokesperson denied that the move is connected to any plan for a plea bargain.

Caspi joined Netanyahu's defense team "as an external and independent consultant" weeks ago, the prime minister's spokesman said. "Caspi denies the claim that the matter of a plea deal or amnesty came up indirectly or indirectly in his consulting, or that there was any sort of discussion on the matter."

"After examining the results of the investigations, Caspi is of the opinion that there is evidence and firm legal claims that can refute and change the charges, and they will be presented at the hearings," Caspi added. 

Legal sources said that the possibility of an agreement that will ease the bribery offenses of which he is suspected in Case 4000 to not constitute moral turpitude are very slim.