Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit rejected on Thursday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's request to postpone his pre-indictment hearing until after the new election, which is slated to be held on September 17.
Mendelblit has rejected the request on the grounds that the hearing only involves the premier's lawyer and not Netanyahu himself, and therefore shouldn’t interfere with the campaign. At most, he is expected to agree to a very short postponement of a week or two.
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Mendelblit's aide, Gil Limon, released a statement saying that "The dissolution of the Knesset and new election cannot justify the postponement the prime minister's pre-indictment hearing."
Limon stressed the importance of "detaching the legal course from the political one," adding that "It was concluded that the date set for the hearing should not be changed."
Limon wrote that that date of the hearing was set while taking into consideration that the prime minister will be busy with forming a governing coalition.
"We believe that the time allocated to Netanyahu is enough to properly prepare for the hearing," Limon said.
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"The repeat elections that were forced on us in an unprecedented manner are an unusual event that also obligates unusual treatment on the part of law enforcement authorities regarding the date of the hearing," a statement from the Prime Minister's Office said of the decision. "It's unacceptable that an ill-defined wild chase is taking precedence over the need to search for the truth. Just today a case was reported in which the attorney general announced two months ago the prosecution of a judge pursuant to a hearing over construction code violations – and the hearing has still not been held. Two years!
"So in a minor case of planning and building violations, they postpone a hearing for more than two years, and in the case of three cases against the prime minister, during an election campaign, they refuse to postpone it for even a few months," the statement concluded.
The hearing has already been postponed once, from July 10 to October 2 and 3. That postponement was due in part to the fact that Netanyahu’s lawyers refused to collect the case files because they hadn’t been paid.
Last month, Netanyahu reached a payment agreement with one attorney, Amit Hadad, who subsequently picked up the files.
Hadad originally asked Mendelblit to postpone the hearing for a year, claiming the amount of material in the case files was “inconceivable” and he needed all that time to prepare properly. But Mendelblit said that would “undermine the vital public interest in making a decision in this case as soon as possible.” He agreed to postpone the hearing only for three months.
In February, Mendelblit announced that unless the pre-indictment hearing changes his mind, he plans to charge Netanyahu with taking bribes in the Bezeq-Walla case and with fraud and breach of trust in two other cases (receiving illicit gifts from businessmen and negotiating with a newspaper publisher to secure more favorable coverage).
He agreed not to give the material to the defense attorneys until April 10, one day after the April 9 election, as had been requested by Netanyahu, who feared that it might leak to his political rivals.
The pre-indictment hearings for the other suspects in these cases will be held on August 15. Liat Ben-Ari, the prosecutor handling them, had told the suspects that if they didn’t agree to that date, she would consider them to have waived their right to a hearing. No such threat was contained in Mendelblit’s response to Netanyahu.