If he must indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he will do it without hesitation, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said on Thursday night, two days after the country was turned upside down by the possibility of another prime minister on trial.
Speaking at a conference at Tel Aviv University, he said it was unpleasant to probe or indict any minister, but he is bound to do what is right. While he knew Netanyahu well, it was only on a professional level, Mandelblit said.
He said he never visited Netanyahu at his personal Caesarea residence, and he conditioned working for him as cabinet secretary on his duties being only professional and not political.
Mandelblit said his original plan after finishing his term as top IDF lawyer was to become a district court judge, and he even considered turning Netanyahu’s job offer down but felt “a calling to the flag.”
The attorney-general refused to commit to any timeline for deciding Netanyahu’s fate. But he said it would be “much faster” because he has been very involved in directing the police.
Mandelblit said he was already very familiar with much of the case’s evidence because he followed the police’s progress so closely.
He said the prime minister definitely did not need to resign due to the police’s recommendations because they are not legally binding. But at the same time, he said, “obviously, they have significance.”
Asked to address whether he agrees with State Attorney Shai Nitzan’s strong statements in the past that Netanyahu is not a suspect in Case 3000 (the “submarine affair”) in light of all of the new evidence that has come to light in recent months, Mandelblit refused to comment.
Pressed by the questioner that maybe his no comment, as opposed to a full denial that Netanyahu was a suspect, was a form of a confirmation that things had changed, Mandelblit demurred.
Earlier on Thursday, Mandelblit backed the police in response to attacks on them for their Tuesday recommendations to indict Netanyahu for bribery in two separate cases, saying the investigations were done “by the book.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the police came under attack from Netanyahu and Likud politicians for the recommendations. Also, late Wednesday night, Channel 2 and 10 reported new criticism against the police by unnamed state prosecution officials who reportedly said the recommendations were thrown together in a rush and sloppily, and the police would need to do further probing of certain issues to complete the file.
Initially, Mandelblit’s spokesman refused to confirm or deny the reports about criticisms of the police from anonymous state prosecution officials.
But Thursday morning, he issued a statement: “The publication of the police regarding the completion of their investigation into Cases 1000 and 2000 was done in complete coordination with the attorney-general” according to regulations.
The police statement was approved by Mandelblit and by Nitzan “as required and as is standard,” Mandelblit’s spokesman said. “The attorney-general and the state prosecution act in complete coordination and with excellent cooperation with the Israel Police.”
Qualifying that their support for the police to publish their statement did not mean final agreement with the police’s conclusions, Mandelblit’s spokesman said: “Obviously the legal conclusion regarding the cases will only be formulated after a careful review of all of the collected evidence... and the veracity of any other publications regarding this are purely” the responsibility of those who publish such reports.”
In other words, Mandelblit’s spokesman said he was not bound by the police. But he also poured some cold water on the idea and the reports that the state prosecution or Mandelblit is angry with the police’s recommendations.
Mandelblit echoed the same message himself in his speech on Thursday night.
“All attacks to separate me and the police are false,” he said. “We work together superbly and are committed solely to the rule of law and to revealing the truth.”
Regarding the police’s conduct of the investigations, Mandelblit said he had been involved in managing the gathering of evidence at all stages. More specifically, he said, “When we found something that would not get anywhere criminal, we did not waste time on it. When we found evidence that could help, nothing stopped us, and we went to far-off continents to get evidence.”
Mandelblit did not deny that there were sometimes different views about how to handle specific issues. But he said these were professional and nonpolitical, and he encouraged pluralism of sharing diverse views among law-enforcement officials.
The attorney-general said he ignored tweets, protests and all other “kinds of noise,” declaring that these pressures “do not influence us and they cannot... Nothing will stop us from seeking the truth.”
Mandelblit said there was a set process with Tel Aviv Economic Crimes Division Director Liat Ben Ari and her staff formulating their recommendations for Nitzan. Nitzan then will make his recommendations to Mandelblit, who will decide.
Meanwhile, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said on Thursday night he was not the key witness in the case against Netanyahu, and he was surprised to hear that he was from news reports. In an interview with Channel 2, he pointed out that there are 80 witnesses.
“I was questioned for 45 minutes, gave the facts as I know them and then didn’t hear anything until I saw on TV that I was the key witness,” he said. “I would rather beat Netanyahu in the ballot box.”
Lapid said the prime minister must quit or suspend himself.
“He cannot be prime minister, because a prime minister must work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the citizens of Israel, and Netanyahu cannot work 24/7 for the citizens of Israel,” he said.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.