Sunday, April 18, 2021

Israel: Netanyahu denies seeking plea deal in corruption cases


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no intention of seeking to reach a plea bargain with state prosecutors in the corruption cases against him, his spokesman said Thursday, slamming what he said were “false reports” to the contrary.

The statement from spokesman Yonatan Urich said reports that Netanyahu was hoping to strike a deal were “baseless,” and that the prime minister’s lawyers would attend a pre-indictment hearing as planned in two weeks time with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, and present “crushing arguments” to show his innocence.

Netanyahu, who in Tuesday’s election suffered a major setback when he and his political allies failed to win a majority needed to form a government, faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, and bribery in one on them.

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His hearing with Mandelblit is set for October 2, which also happens to be the final date by which President Reuven Rivlin must task a lawmaker with assembling a government.

Quoting sources in the State Prosecutor’s Office, Channel 12 news reported earlier Thursday that Netanyahu’s hearing would go ahead as scheduled despite the election results, which left no party with a clear path to forming a government.

Had Netanyahu won a clear majority, and been able to build a coalition, he would have been expected to seek immunity from prosecution via a Knesset vote.

It was was widely believed that he would then have sought legislation to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning any such Knesset decision. In the final days of the campaign, Netanyahu was evasive when asked whether he would indeed seek to limit the powers of the Supreme Court.

The hearing was originally scheduled for June; in May Mandelblit agreed to delay it by three months.

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Netanyahu’s attorneys had asked the attorney general for a full-year delay, arguing that the scope of the documents was too large to review in three months. Mandelblit refused that request.

Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu, pending the hearing, in February. The prime minister’s attorneys requested, and were granted, that the case files not be handed over prior to the April 9 elections in order to prevent information from leaking to the media and affecting the vote.

But after those elections, his lawyers refrained for another month from collecting the material, citing a dispute over their fees. They have been accused of engaging in delay tactics.

On Wednesday, high-profile attorney Uri Korb, who was a prosecutor for the state in the case against former prime minister Ehud Olmert, said Netanyahu had requested that he represent him at the upcoming hearing with Mandelblit.

“I was asked for assistance. At this stage, I’m not going to be providing any help,” Korb told Channel 12.

He did not say exactly when the request was made and did not rule out eventually taking the job.

Some members of Netanyahu’s legal team have left him over issues with payment, which the prime minister has attempted to fund via American supporters.

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The prime minister had accepted $300,000 from businessman Nathan Milikowsky, his cousin, which the Permits Committee in the State Comptroller’s Office said he must return.

On Friday, Mandelblit said that he would allow Netanyahu to take a loan from a friend, American businessman Spencer Partrich, to help fund his legal defense.

Netanyahu has strenuously denied all the allegations against him and claimed the investigations are part of a witch hunt by political rivals, the media, the police and state prosecutors to force him from office.


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