Netanyahu's lawyer: There is a solid foundation for dropping the charges

These hearings are Netanyahu’s last opportunity to head off a final indictment decision which could heavily impact his political fortunes and the ongoing attempts to form a new coalition.

October 2, 2019 11:54
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's defense attorney Ram Caspi arrives at court for the PM's pre-ind

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's defense attorney Ram Caspi arrives at court for the PM's pre-indictment hearing with Attorney General Avigdor Mandelblit, October 2 2019. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Attorney Ram Caspi, lawyer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said before entering the PM's hearing in the Department of Justice that "knowing the top levels the judiciary, I have no doubt that during the hearing the attorney general will form his recommendations in a professional and thorough manner while disregarding the background noise, the protests and media pressure. I treat these hearings with the utmost importance."

Caspi refused to answer when asked if the hearing will lead to all charges being dropped, but said that the subject of pardon or a plea deal was not discussed during internal meetings.

Another of Netanyahu's lawyers, Amit Hadad, backed up Caspi's no-pardon claims, adding that "we will present today all the evidence that everyone knows and some new evidence. We believe in the hearing process and we believe that after the hearings all three cases will be dropped."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long-awaited series of pre-indictment hearings before Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit started on Wednesday morning.

These hearings are Netanyahu’s last opportunity to head off a final indictment decision which could heavily impact his political fortunes and the ongoing attempts to form a new coalition.

On Sunday, Mandelblit’s office issued an update that the pre-indictment hearings would be expanded from two days to four days, including Thursday, as well as Sunday and Monday of next week.

The goal of Netanyahu’s legal team is likely not to erase the charges, but to convince Mandelblit to water them down.

Presuming that Mandelblit issues a final decision to indict Netanyahu, it is highly likely that this decision will come out as negotiations over forming a new government are at their height.

This means that what those final charges are could heavily impact whether Netanyahu, Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, or a new leader from Likud who pushes out Netanyahu becomes the next prime minister, or what the rotation arrangement might be.

If the country goes to its third election this year, the final charges could end Netanyahu’s political career, possibly even more abruptly, as the Likud may dispatch him so they can run the campaign without the criminal cloud.

On Tuesday night, Likud activists protested outside Mandelblit’s house in Petah Tikva, demanding the attorney-general not give in to pressure from the Left.

Reduced charges could move any future trial down from the district court to the magistrate’s court and, anecdotally, the magistrate’s court is viewed as friendlier to politicians as many of them have a strong chance to seek promotion to the district court, with politicians’ support.

In contrast, most district court judges know that they will not be promoted to the Supreme Court and view themselves as having reached the top job that they will ever get.

Netanyahu’s two main targets in the pre-indictment hearings are to try to convince Mandelblit to drop Case 2000 (the Yediot Aharonot-Israel Hayom Affair) and to get the charges in Case 4000 (The Bezeq-Walla Affair) reduced from bribery to breach of public trust.

Mandelblit already reduced Case 1000 (the Illegal Gifts Affair) from a bribery case (as recommended by both the police and the state prosecution team) to mere breach of trust and The Jerusalem Post understands that it is less likely that he will drop the case completely.

A bribery charge means the case would be heard in the district court. Breach of trust would go down to the friendlier magistrate’s court.

Netanyahu’s lawyers know that they have a sympathetic ear from Mandelblit regarding Case 2000.

The Post has learned that Mandelblit has doubted this case from the start, viewing it as more of a public relations embarrassment for Netanyahu than as a criminal case that could be proven in court. But getting Case 2000 dropped is not the biggest game for Netanyahu’s lawyers. Far more important for them, and for Netanyahu’s fate, is getting the bribery charge in Case 4000 reduced to breach of trust.

There are several scenarios where Netanyahu may still find himself before the Supreme Court with the justices having to decide whether to force a sitting prime minister to resign who is under indictment, but who has not yet been convicted at trial.

No one knows how the Supreme Court would rule and the highest legal minds suggest such a decision is 50/50 and could go either way.

However, if the Supreme Court were to take on itself to force Netanyahu from office, the only basis would likely be that he is accused of serious bribery leading to around NIS 1.8 billion going to Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive media coverage.

In fact, the Post learned as early as June 2018 that Mandelblit himself might not have gone forward with any of the cases if not for the Case 4000 bribery charge.

If Netanyahu’s lawyers convince Mandelblit to reduce the bribery charge to breach of trust, this would probably end any realistic probability of the Supreme Court intervening.

Netanyahu’s lawyers will argue that any policy changes by the Communications Ministry which benefited Elovitch were within the realm of reasonable and signed off on by multiple apolitical officials.

They will also argue that Walla often covered Netanyahu negatively and not only positively.

Between these two arguments, they will say that there is no viable media bribery scheme accusation against the prime minister.

The key to whether Netanyahu’s lawyers succeed may be whether they convince Mandelblit that they can pick apart the all-important damning testimony of the prime minister’s former top aide turned state’s witness, Shlomo Filber.

Filber is expected to be a strong witness and his freedom is dependent on him pointing the finger at Netanyahu.

This means much of the legal fight next week will be about Netanyahu’s lawyers convincing Mandelblit that they can convince a judge that Filber sold out to save his own skin under undue and improper duress by police investigators who were desperate for a Netanyahu conviction at all costs.

Netanyahu’s lawyers are likely to argue, based on leaked portions of Filber’s testimony to police right before he turned, that Filber had accused the police of “a million man race” to bring down Netanyahu by grabbing at anyone who was close to him.

But Netanyahu’s lawyers will need to compete with the prosecution’s narrative about Filber.

According to a recent Channel 12 report, Filber confessed to police right after turning state’s witness that it was as if a cloud had been lifted and that he could tell the truth for the first time in years.

Filber said that he knew from the start that the prime minister’s orders to make policy changes in favor of Elovitch were a “national disaster,” but that he went along with it because he was caught up in the glory of his new title and power.

Idan Zonshine contributed to this report.

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