(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday night closed the corruption case against opposition leader Isaac Herzog without indictment on the basis of insufficient evidence.
Allegations had been made that Herzog accepted illegal contributions during the 2013 Labor primaries, failed to report the contributions and filed a false declaration regarding them.
Mandelblit’s assessment was not a resounding affirmation of Herzog’s innocence. He even expressed doubt about aspects of his narrative, but said there was insufficient proof to thoroughly disprove Herzog’s alibi of ignorance of illegal conduct by aides and supporters, and certainly not enough proof to show criminal intent.
Herzog was questioned under caution multiple times about alleged campaign fund-raising violations in April, but after questioning, the police recommended closing the case.
In late March, Mandelblit initiated an initial probe into alleged fund-raising violations by Herzog in his 2013 campaign for the Labor Party leadership against incumbent Shelly Yacimovich.
Herzog has said that he only knew about his positive campaign, but not about a separate negative campaign against Yacimovich.
Mandelblit said there was evidence that Herzog knew about the negative campaign, but not necessarily all its details and not to the level of criminal intent about any illegal transfers.
“I praise the attorney-general’s decision that listened to all police and attorneys’ advice, to shut down the investigation case against me,” said Herzog.
“I have always believed that it would be proven that I acted according to the law and I am happy it happened already in this stage. It should be said that this investigation was based on a biased and baseless article that was published on the eve of the general elections in 2015, in the Israel Hayom newspaper. I am certain that the same will happen also with the others that are involved in the case.”
At the same time, Mandelblit said – subject to a pre-indictment hearing – he will likely indict Herzog’s 2013 election campaign chief Shimon Batat as well as Gilad Ramot, who allegedly transferred funds illegally to Herzog’s campaign, .
According to Mandelblit, Batat requested that lawyer Daniel Cohen conduct a negative campaign against Yacimovich for a fee of NIS 40,000 and coordinated with Ramot to pay with eight checks of NIS 5,000 each.
Ramot’s company opposed a reform under consideration by the Knesset, which Herzog lined up to oppose. The overall allegation was that Herzog and Batat used their political power to help Ramot’s business in exchange for his funding a negative campaign against Yacomovich – funding which was never reported to the state comptroller.
While Batat and Ramot said Cohen performed other services for them, Cohen rejected their stories and said Batat hired him to attack Yacimovich with funds provided by Ramot.
It is expected that Batat and Ramot will be indicted based on those contradictions, whereas there was not enough proof of Herzog having sufficient direct contact with any of the parties – specifically about the illegal funds – to prove he knew about the funds or opposed the reform in order to help Ramot in exchange for them.Udi Shaham and Gil Hoffman contributed to this story.