Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit (R) during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / REUTERS)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is expected on Sunday to reject the request to delay a pre-indictment hearing for bribery charges by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers, Channel 13 News reported Saturday night.
Filed last week, but only announced on Friday, the move is designed to remove the legal issue from impacting the coalition negotiations relating to creating a new government, which must be formed by May 29.
The current July 10 pre-indictment date puts pressure on Netanyahu and could distract him from both coalition negotiations and initial government business.
Also, a July 10 hearing date means that the final indictment decision would likely be made by the fall, if not winter, of 2020 at the latest.
Netanyahu’s lawyers are hopeful that pushing off starting the hearings by months could also push off any final indictment decision deeper into the following term.
They are also testing Mandelblit’s resolve regarding the case following Netanyahu’s resounding election win.
However, in late April, following the April 9 general elections, Mandelblit gave a speech in which he explained that the election result will not impact his decision about whether or not to indict Netanyahu for bribery.
Mandelblit said that he respects the right of voters to choose their own prime minister, but that at the same time, a past Supreme Court decision clearly stated that election voting results do not impact criminal law decisions.
His speech came after he threatened to cancel Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing if his lawyers do not schedule it soon.
On February 28, Mandelblit announced his intent to indict Netanyahu for bribery subject to that hearing.
According to Mandelblit, he and Netanyahu’s lawyers reached a deal on March 11 that he would delay the release of the case file regarding the prime minister until after the general elections, on the condition that it would not delay the case’s progress.
To ensure that progress, he set July 10 as the latest date by which to start Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearings.
Since the election, Netanyahu’s lawyers have refused to pick up the case file from the state prosecutor’s office, saying they would not do so until the question of their lawyers’ fees is resolved.
His lawyers are in an ongoing dispute with a State Comptroller committee about whether Netanyahu’s cousin, tycoon Natan Milikovsky, may pay the prime minister’s legal bills in his public corruption cases.
Netanyahu’s lawyers have said that, since they have been unable to pick up the case file without their attorney fee issues resolved, Mandelblit will need to postpone the July 10 hearing date by several months so that they have adequate time to prepare.
But a previous letter by Mandelblit made it clear that their attorney fees was an internal issue between them and Netanyahu, and does not concern the state prosecution.
He added that if Netanyahu’s lawyers did not set a pre-indictment hearing with him by May 20, he would cancel the hearing process and move forward expeditiously to a final decision – in which he is expected to stick to his guns and indict the prime minister for bribery.
One variable in the dispute is whether the lawyers will ask the High Court of Justice to intervene and compel Mandelblit to give them more time.
However, the last time his lawyers challenged Mandelblit before the High Court, trying to delay his announcement of intent to indict Netanyahu until after the election, High Court Justice Noam Sohlberg tossed out their request in a matter of hours.
This was noteworthy, since Sohlberg is viewed as among the most right-wing friendly justices.
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