How the indicting Bibi train could still go off the rails - analysis

Expectations have been that the final indictment decision would come down before State Attorney Shai Nitzan steps down on December 15 at the latest.

By
September 24, 2019 09:44
3 minute read.
How the indicting Bibi train could still go off the rails - analysis

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has been on a collision course with his former sponsor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, since announcing an intent to indict him on February 28.

Expectations have been that the final indictment decision would come down before State Attorney Shai Nitzan steps down on December 15 at the latest.

But The Jerusalem Post has learned that this train could both move faster than expected or even go off the rails.

The prominent scenarios being speculated about involve some series of deals to give Netanyahu a presidential pardon or a plea deal with no jail time in exchange for the prime minister agreeing to retire from politics.

Though anything can happen in the current dynamic environment, neither of these options have gotten anywhere far to date with Mandelblit.

In fact, Mandelblit’s plan was likely to lock himself off from the world following the October 2-3 pre-indictment hearings and to potentially issue the final indictment in late October or early November.

If Mandelblit moved with this speed, it could even impact the ongoing coalition negotiations more than the general criminal case cloud over Netanyahu already has framed things.

But could Netanyahu’s lawyers drop a last minute bomb onto the proceedings?

What if they introduce a new item of evidence that the police did not know about or has not been fully investigated?

In principle, such new evidence would require Mandelblit to order the police to reopen the investigation.

Could this completely halt the decision-making process and significantly delay any indictment?

Even if such a new evidentiary bomb only delayed the indictment decision until mid-December, it would significantly lessen the harm from the scandal on Netanyahu as he tries to maneuver through the current round of three-dimensional coalition negotiations.

That is not the only way that Netanyahu could push Mandelblit’s decision off until mid-December.

Though Mandelblit scheduled two days of pre-indictment hearings for Netanyahu for October 2-3, if the prime minister’s lawyers ask for more hearings, the attorney-general will be hard pressed to say “no.”

So will Mandelblit’s final indictment decision be postponed until its political impact is more negligible?

The truth is that Mandelblit’s calendar has never been coordinated with the political calendar.

If Nitzan were stepping down in mid-January, Mandelblit probably could have lived with waiting to issue a final indictment decision until then.

The only reason to rush a decision within a few weeks after the pre-indictment hearings is to end his role in any political calculus so that the center of legal attention moves away from his office to the courts.

As long as he decides within around one year from the February 28 decision, though certainly not speedy, he will remain within the spectrum of time for making such a momentous decision.

So Mandelblit may rush his decision to come out by early November Or he may not care that much if his decision is delayed by a mere few weeks either by new evidence or by additional hearings.

The reason that mid-December is close to an absolute deadline, even if there is new evidence or additional hearings, is that Nitzan has been on these cases since they started and the attorney-general wants to present a united front.

It is unclear whether the next state attorney, who would also need time to get familiar with the materials, will share Mandelblit’s and Nitzan’s mostly common view of the cases – though Nitzan actually wanted to charge Netanyahu with even more counts of bribery.

Mandelblit also knows that if he delays too long, more surprises could be thrown into the works to obtain more delays. He was already pressured into pushing back the pre-indictment hearings from July to October.

So no matter what new evidence might emerge, Mandelblit will be able to say that the wealth of existing evidence makes the impact of the new evidence limited. This will mean he can justify limiting the time frame for looking into the new evidence so that it does not blow past his December deadline. The same will be true of additional hearings – he will only grant them if they happen rapidly.

Netanyahu may be able to succeed in delaying the impact of the final indictment decision, but come December at the latest, he and Mandelblit will finally collide.


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