Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Israel: Decision to indict PM Netanyahu in corruption probe expected by mid-November


Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit plans to decide on whether to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the three corruption charges against him by mid-November, Channel 12 reported Friday.

State prosecutors and Netanyahu’s lawyers on Monday wrapped up four days of pre-indictment hearings over the pending corruption charges against the prime minister.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000, Case 2000 and Case 4000. In Case 4000, he also faces a bribery charge.

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Channels 12 and 13 both quoted unnamed sources saying some in Mandelblit’s team are inclined to drop the most serious charge, of bribery in Case 4000, though both reports stressed that the decision is ultimately Mandelblit’s. The attorney general published the draft charges at length in February.

The Channel 12 report said that Netanyahu’s lawyers had not managed to present anything new in Cases 1000 and 2000, but in Case 4000, the lawyers had presented an “alternate narrative,” which Mandelblit was considering. It did not give any details on this “alternate narrative.”

For its part, Channel 13 said there was “a tendency,” among some in the state prosecution team, to incline toward fraud and breach of trust charges only in Case 4000, dropping the bribery charge. Channel 13 also reported, however, that the “senior” prosecutors remain convinced that a bribery charge is appropriate.

Case 4000 concerns allegations that Netanyahu pushed regulatory decisions financially benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, in return for ongoing positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site.

Monday’s final day of hearings focused on Case 1000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of illicitly receiving gifts such as champagne, cigars and jewelry valued at some NIS 700,000 ($201,000) from billionaire benefactors Arnon Milchan and James Packer, and allegedly reciprocating in Milchan’s case with various forms of assistance.

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Unsourced reports in Hebrew-language media said Mandelblit determined at the end of the hearings that there was no need for supplementary investigation into the allegations in the light of the Netanyahu defense team’s presentations.

They said Netanyahu’s lawyers asked to submit further defense material in writing to complete their presentation, and that Mandeblit gave them until the end of the Sukkot holiday to do so.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of agreeing with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. The agreement was never implemented.

Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution, designed to oust him from power.

The legal woes come as Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival, with the country’s unprecedented second election of the year again failing to provide him with a clear victory. In last month’s election, neither Netanyahu nor his chief challenger, Benny Gantz, secured the required parliamentary majority to form a new government. Both men have expressed support for a unity government as a way out of the deadlock, but they remain far apart on who should lead it and what smaller parties would join them.

Gantz and his centrist Blue and White Party have so far rejected a partnership with Netanyahu, citing his legal woes. A failure to reach a deal could trigger a third election in less than a year.

Israeli law requires cabinet ministers to step down if charged with a crime. But the law is vague for sitting prime ministers, meaning Netanyahu could theoretically remain in the post if he is indicted, though he would likely face calls to step aside.

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