Mandelblit announces intent to indict Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery

The decision could decisively impact election; Case 2000 indictment for breach of trust.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit (R) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit (R)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announced late Thursday his intent to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
After months of speculation, Mandelblit announced an intent to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair; for breach of trust in Case 1000, the Illegal Gifts Affair; and for breach of trust in Case 2000, the Yediot Aharonot-Israel Hayom Affair.
Case 2000 went down to the wire as Mandelblit overruled most of the prosecution, which wanted a bribery charge.
The decision came despite a last-minute effort by Likud to get the High Court of Justice to block Mandelblit from announcing his decision before the elections.
However, the court’s most conservative justice, Noam Sohlberg, rejected the request as being filed too late.
Ironically, Sohlberg was part of a High Court panel that only a few hours earlier rejected an NGO’s attempts to compel Mandelblit to declare Netanyahu a suspect in Case 3000, the Submarine Affair.
Mandelblit has steadfastly resisted any attempts to link Netanyahu to Case 3000.
Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party are neck and neck according to polls, and if the prime minister loses even a few seats due to the accusations against him for public corruption, it could turn the tide in the election.
Even if Netanyahu is reelected, there is a strong chance that Mandelblit, after holding a series of pre-indictment hearings with Netanyahu’s lawyers, will issue a final decision to indict him in the next three to 12 months. This could lead the High Court of Justice to force the prime minister’s resignation if he does not voluntarily step down.
Sources close to Mandelblit have previously told The Jerusalem Post that if the attorney-general moved to indict Netanyahu for the serious charge of bribery – as opposed to a lesser charge – he would not defend Netanyahu before the High Court if a petition was filed to force the prime minister to resign.
Mandelblit also closed the charges against Sara Netanyahu in Case 4000, despite recommendations by the police for her indictment, which many prosecutors also supported.
The attorney-general also said he would likely indict Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch for bribery and obstruction of justice as well as his wife, Iris, and a range of other top Bezeq officials.
In addition, he said he would likely indict Yediot Aharonot owner Arnon (Noni) Mozes for bribery.
However, he closed the cases against billionaire Arnon Milchan in Case 1000 and Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel in Case 2000.
In one twist, Netanyahu’s lawyers have both demanded that the prosecution hand over more evidence against Netanyahu immediately, and asked the prosecution to withhold evidence until after the election so that it does not leak to the press.
There are four new revelations from the document of accusations:
1. On December 4, 2014, Netanyahu met with Mozes. He offers Netanyahu positive media coverage and to attack Netanyahu rivals Naftali Bennett and Moshe Kahlon with “all of my efforts.” Netanyahu responds describing to Mozes how he will pass the law that will weaken Israel Hayom and empower Mozes. The prosecution says that this was the moment where Netanyahu broke the law. Also, after the fifth of six meetings with Mozes, Netanyahu met with Israel Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson and asked for his help to carry out what he had promised to Mozes.
2. In Case 4000, where Netanyahu got positive coverage from Walla in exchange for helping Walla owner Elovitch illegally make NIS 680 million, he ordered top aide Nir Hefetz not to pass on requests for articles by Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, and his son Yair to get published on Walla until after he reviewed them. Netanyahu has denied he knew about Sara and Yair’s activities. The order to Hefetz is Mandelblit’s evidence that Netanyahu knew everything, including planting negative stories against Bennett and his family, President Reuven Rivlin and others.
3. We thought top Netanyahu aide Shlomo Filber was only involved in the Case 4000 media bribery affair. But Netanyahu is accused of summoning Filber late at night as a middleman also to advance billionaire Milchan’s interests in investing in the Keshet channel after Milchan gave Netanyahu hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts.
4. Netanyahu allegedly received from billionaire Milchan NIS 267,254 in cigars, NIS 199,819 of champagne and NIS 10,900 for Sara for jewelry. The prosecution said Netanyahu knew about all of this, including gifts to Sara he denied knowing about. Netanyahu also allegedly summoned IDF Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot to provide Milchan with an IDF helicopter to go to Jordan for business. Netanyahu’s lawyers have told the Post that this was for businessman Ratan Tata to advance deals with Jordan, not for Milchan. But the prosecution says Netanyahu also met with Milchan’s accountant, Zeev Feldman, to ensure that the business plans were to benefit Milchan.
Case 4000
There are two premises to the accusations against Netanyahu in Case 4000.
The first premise is that Netanyahu fired Communications Ministry director-general Avi Berger and hired his loyalist and ex-campaign manager Filber to ensure a government policy that improperly favored Elovitch’s interests in Bezeq.
Filber has since turned state’s witness against the prime minister – a critical breakthrough in gathering evidence of the regulatory half of the bribery case.
The second premise is that in exchange for the positive treatment for Bezeq, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, directed Elovitch’s online news site Walla to give him favorable coverage.
Previously, the police had disclosed that they questioned some 60 witnesses in 176 sessions and gathered massive amounts of documents and recordings, including from foreign countries. Hefetz reportedly taped the Netanyahu and Elovitch families frequently without their knowledge.
Other top officials who Mandelblit is expected to indict based on police recommendations for a combination of bribery, fraud and breach of trust include: former top Bezeq official Amikam Sorer; former Bezeq CEO Stella Handler; Netanyahu and Elovitch family friend and Israel Bonds VP Zeev Rubinstein; Elovitch’s son, Or; and Eli Kamir.
Netanyahu denies the charges saying that Walla! never gave him positive coverage, or if it did, it is legal, and that professional bureaucrats approved the policies that helped Elovitch as legitimate.
Case 1000
Regarding the Illegal Gifts Affair, Netanyahu is accused of, and admits to, receiving a range of expensive cigars, champagne and other items.
He has denied that he received these gifts for any improper purpose and claimed that the gifts were part of a long-term friendship with billionaires Milchan and James Packer.
Late in the investigation, evidence emerged that Netanyahu tried to get a law passed that would get Milchan potentially millions or even hundreds of millions of shekels in tax exemptions as a returning Israeli citizen.
The police have said that Netanyahu even leaned on then-finance minister Yair Lapid to push the law through, but that Lapid or his team blocked the law as against state interests.
Case 2000
Yediot Aharonot was losing millions of shekels to Israel Hayom.
Yediot owner Mozes allegedly asked Netanyahu to use his power to eliminate or reduce Israel Hayom so as to get those millions back.
In exchange, Yediot would allegedly not merely give the prime minister a favorable interview, but entirely shift its coverage – a shift that could be decisive whenever elections came around. The value in such a shift in coverage could be viewed as priceless.
The opinion of the vast majority of the prosecution, reportedly including State Attorney Shai Nitzan and prosecution team leader Liat Ben-Ari (who took down former prime minister Ehud Olmert) as well as the official police recommendation, have been to indict Netanyahu for bribery or attempted bribery.
Mandelblit overruled them and reduced the charge to breach of public trust on multiple grounds.
The first reason he overruled them was that, unlike Case 4000, the alleged bribery scheme fell through and never took place. He has viewed proving attempted bribery and intent to bribe without an actual transaction as extremely difficult.
In addition, Mandelblit has been concerned about interfering with politicians’ relations with the media and free-speech rights.
Netanyahu said the negotiations with Mozes were an elaborate act and expressed frustration that other politicians involved in similar schemes have not been criminally probed.
Though this same concern existed in Case 4000, there Mandelblit is expected to indict Netanyahu anyway because he views the Bezeq-Yes merger, with hundreds of millions of shekels going into Elovitch’s pocket, as trumping the concern of respecting political-media relations.