Israel's AG to Announce This Week Whether He Will File Charges Against Netanyahu

Avichai Mendelblit expected to make his long-awaited decision known on condition that it isn't final in order to avoid claims he is attempting to influence the election

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at the Knesset, December 3, 2018.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at the Knesset, December 3, 2018.Credit: Emil Salman
Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected to publish his decision this week on whether to file charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mendelblit hopes to release the decision before the end of the week, about 40 days prior to the April 9 election, but it may be delayed to the beginning of next week.

The attorney general is expected to announce the indictment of Netanyahu on the basis of accepting bribes in Case 4000, alleging Netanyahu made decisions benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, Israel's largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage in Elovitch's website, Walla News.

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Netanyahu is also expected to be indicted for fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000, in which he is accused of accepting lavish gifts from Israeli-American entertainment magnate Arnon Milchan.

Mendelblit has yet to determine whether to also try Netanyahu in Case 2000, involving suspected bribes from Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes. Mozes and Netanyahu were recorded by former Netanyahu aide Ari Harow for discussing a deal in which critical coverage of Netanyahu would be reduced in Mozes' newspaper in exchange for limiting rival newspaper Israel Hayom.

Meanwhile, a state-comptroller panel examining possible conflicts of interest among ministers denied on Sunday once more Netanyahu's request to receive $2-million funding to cover legal fees from two tycoons, his cousin Nathan Milikowsky and American businessman Spencer Partrich. In addition, the panel ordered Netanyahu to return $300,000 already provided by Milikowsky.

Last week, Mendelblit convened meetings with Israel's State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and Tel Aviv District Attorney for Taxation and Economics Liat Ben Ari, who recommend indicting the prime minister in Case 2000 as well. Mendelblit has yet to reveal his position in these meetings, and is still unclear on his intentions to file charges.

In the event that Mendelblit will close Case 2000, he will issue a detailed explanation for his decision, and will also publish the state prosecutor's position on the matter. It is thus far unclear on which rationale Mendelblit would decide to close the case, as none of the legal reasons (lack of evidence, lack of blame, or lack of public interest) are at play.

In addition, Mendelblit would be pressured to explain why he canceled Harow's decision to turn state's evidence. According to the arrangement, in compensation for the information Harow provided, Harow will plead guilty to breach of trust for selling a fictitious consulting company to circumvent conflict-of-interest regulations. He will also carry out six months of community service in addition to paying a 700 thousand shekels (193,800 dollars) fine.

Either way, closing Case 2000 against Netanyahu doesn't necessarily mean closing the case against Mozes. The attorney general is expected to close Sara Netanyahu's case in Case 4000.

The decision is expected to be published on Thursday. On Wednesday, Netanyahu will be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Mendelblit will probably emphasize in his announcement to the public that his decision is not final, as to avoid claims that he is hurting or influencing the outcome of the elections. In meetings conducted by Mendelblit, he has consulted with upwards of 20 senior legal officials who have taken a deep dive into the evidence of the cases. Investigations have carried on for about three years. Mendelblit rejected Netanyahu's lawyers' requests to delay publicizing the decision until after the elections, on the grounds of "the principal of equality in the eyes of the law and the public's right to know about important legal decisions such as these."

There is no preventing the announcement of intentions to indict a public figure pending a hearing, even if the hearing itself will take place after the election, Mendelblit wrote in his decision. "Not a small number of charges have been filed against elected officials before elections over the years, most of which have been before local elections that have taken place fairly recently."

As an example, he used the case of then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who publicized his intentions to file charges against Tzachi Hanegbi on Election Night of 2006. Hanegbi's hearing took place only after.

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