Netanyahu's Request Rejected: Attorney General Won't Postpone Indictment Decision Until After Election

Prime minister's spokesperson says AG 'has given in to pressure from the left and the media' to file an indictment 'at any price'

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit attends a conference in Tel Aviv, November 6, 2018.
\ Moti Milrod

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said Friday that no legal reason prevents him from deciding whether to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for corruption before the April 9 election.

His statement followed Netanyahu’s lawyers' request that the   announcement on the cases be postponed until after the vote.

“Suspending the regular work process, determined in advance, concerning the investigations ... until after the date of the election would be a violation of the principle of equality before the law,” Mendelblit wrote in a letter to Netanyahu's legal team.

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He noted that such a delay would also deviate from past instructions by the attorney general. “Waiting to release the decision is not in keeping with the public’s right to know,” he added.

Mendelblit said prosecutors had been examining the evidence long before an early election was called. Also, the rules set in 2005 concerning investigations into elected officials during an election campaign state that no reason exists not to announce an indictment before the vote. Only a hearing is required, though it could take place after the election. 

This is what happened in the case of Tzachi Hanegbi, a longtime Likud legislator and government minister. A month and a half before the 2006 election, then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz – now a Supreme Court justice – announced that he was considering indicting Hanegbi for corruption.

The indictment was handed down, the hearing took place after the election, and Hanegbi was eventually cleared of all charges.

“It seems the attorney general has given in to pressure from the left and the media to file an indictment against Prime Minister Netanyahu at any price – and before the election," a spokesman for Netanyahu said Thursday in response to media reports on Mendelblit’s expected decision.

"The prime minister’s lawyers placed a request before the attorney general to carry out supplementary questioning of more than 60 important witnesses who haven't been questioned in any of the cases. The ink wasn't yet dry and they rushed to leak from the prosecutor’s office that there was no intention to check these essential witnesses."

One request of Netanyahu’s lawyers was to question the 43 Knesset members who voted in favor of the so-called Israel Hayom bill on banning free newspapers; the daily has traditionally been pro-Netanyahu.

Two weeks ago, Netanyahu’s legal team asked Mendelblit to postpone any announcement regarding a possible indictment until after the election.

The two sides met in Mendelblit’s office for about two and a half hours. State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan was also present, as was his deputy Shlomo Lemberger and deputy attorneys general Raz Nizri and Amit Merari. None of the prosecutors involved in the cases were present.

Five members of Netanyahu’s defense team attended the meeting: Navot Tel Zur, Amit Hadad and Tal Shapira, along with two retired judges who are now working for Netanyahu – a former president of the Be’er Sheva District Court, Sefi Elon, and Oded Mudrik.

Netanyahu’s lawyers did not comment on the meeting but said they had asked for Mendelblit to “guarantee a fair game for the prime minister, who is facing an election.”

On December 19, the State Prosecutor’s Office recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery in two cases in which the prime minister allegedly offered favors for good news coverage: Case 2000 involving the daily  Yedioth Ahronoth and Case 4000 involving telecom company Bezeq and its Walla news site.

The next step is for the attorney general to decide. Mendelbit is said to be leaning toward accepting prosecutors’ advice and recommending a bribery indictment in the Bezeq-Walla case. In Case 1000, the affair in which Netanyahu received lavish gifts from billionaires, Mendelblit is considering an indictment for fraud and breach of trust.

Sources say there are disagreements regarding an indictment in the Yedioth case.

"In the most crucial decision in Israel's legal history, a process of a year and a half is being compressed into a few days," Netanyahu's spokesman said. "We hope the left's enormous pressure on the attorney general won't defeat him another time when he has to decide whether to consider two and a half articles on Walla a bribe.”