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After Netanyahu, Does the Attorney General Have Any Energy Left for Other Cases?

Raviv Drucker
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Supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu hold posters with Avichai Mendelblit's photo during the opening session of Netanyahu's trial in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Raviv Drucker

The attorney general has not concealed his disappointment with the case of Interior Minister Arye Dery. He approved an investigation based on certain information – corruption and the transfer of large sums – but got something other than what he expected. The legal inquiry conducted in Germany looked like a joke to him. It all started with, among other things, information from the anti-money laundering authority about the transfer of large sums from Germany that were connected to James Schlaff. It doesn’t take too much effort to imagine where one’s thoughts go when money from a member of the Schlaff family is streaming to a member of the Dery family. In the end, the investigation linked the matter solely to Shlomo Dery, the interior minister’s brother, but to Avichai Mendelblit’s dismay, the probe went in a different direction entirely.

In Mendelblit’s eyes, Dery is one of the most normal ministers in the government, someone you could depend on, especially when the prime minister has one of his attacks. In addition, until this criminal case the Dery-Mendelblit relationship was bordering on friendship. There is no certainty that the criminal case has undermined the attorney general’s basic affection for the Shas chairman. Here is another example of why the government’s legal adviser cannot also serve as the head of the prosecution. More importantly, this time Dery played the game perfectly.

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When I interviewed Dery a few years ago, he surprised me. He said that he very much regretted the public battle that he’d waged during his previous legal case; that he had forced the judicial establishment into a corner and practically compelled it to imprison him. Dery even named the advisers who he said had persuaded him to go the route of demonstrations and verbal attacks. It was a mistake.

He apparently meant it. This time Dery conducted himself differently. He never attacked the prosecution or the police, he let the investigation drag on without saying a word; he didn’t even push the attorney general to make a decision. After the decision to indict Dery for tax evasion, subject to a hearing, was announced, his lawyer, Navot Tel-Zur, issued a moderate, almost bland statement. Most of the allegations were dismissed, it said; the rest we hope to dismiss at the hearing. In this instance, the interior minister practically compelled the attorney general to be merciful toward him.

But at the end of the day, the story of this case looks bad. Firstly, from what has been published, Dery is portrayed as both a criminal and a fool. A significant number of the acts in question were committed after he returned to politics, when he understood that his every move would be scrutinized. It’s unbelievable; it’s as if the criminal pattern is so deeply ingrained within him that he is capable of making tactical changes to how to manage his defense, but is unable to change the way he conducts his financial affairs – by deception, hiding income and doing business in cash without any visible justification.

איור: ערן וולקובסקי

Dery argues that the cash he used came from gifts he received for family celebrations. The investigation showed that between his most recent wedding and the use of the cash a good deal of time had passed, during which he had borrowed money from people. If you are holding a lot of legitimately acquired cash, why hide it and why borrow money?

Second, the foot-dragging in this case is unforgiveable, whether by the police, the prosecution, or the attorney general. Mendelblit took a year and a half to make a decision, for no apparent reason. Discussions of the case were repeatedly canceled, and the hearing is still far off. Because of the length of time that’s passed, the chance that there will be any real punishment is minuscule. Not to mention that the interior minister has been forced to work with a sword dangling over his head for so many years.

Third, and most problematic: The Dery case raises the concern that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s struggle with Mendelblit has left the attorney general with no fighting spirit or energy left to prosecute other cases. He dismissed many of the corruption charges against Dery without any clear explanation, other than the fear of having to manage another big case. While it’s true that no attorney general has gone through what he’s going through, an attorney general has to be a superman. Since Mendelblit has another year in the job, now is the time for him to develop superpowers.

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