The coronavirus corruption effect: Bibi, Litzman, Deri off the hook?

When the country declared a state of national emergency in mid-March, Netanyahu’s already long-delayed bribery trial was postponed until at least May 24.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri (photo credit: AMIT SHABI/YEDIOTH ACHRONOTH/POOL)
Shas party leader Aryeh Deri
Virtually all major public corruption probes are on hold indefinitely until the coronavirus crisis passes or at least subsides, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
This is not just true for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but maybe just as significantly, it has vastly delayed decisions regarding United Torah Judaism party leader Ya’acov Litzman and Shas Party leader Arye Deri.
When the country declared a state of national emergency in mid-March, Netanyahu’s already long-delayed bribery trial was postponed until at least May 24.
As of now, the judicial establishment has extended the general state of emergency for reduced hearings until May 10.
Yet throughout this period, the High Court of Justice has been hearing cases, sometimes allowing 30 people in its large courtrooms.
There is absolutely no reason that the Jerusalem District Court could not hold hearings for Netanyahu’s trial in one of the High Court’s usually empty rooms. They would not need anywhere near 30 people present.
Important criminal proceedings, such as detention hearings, have continued to go forward in person, and many are also going forward via videoconferencing – something which also could have been done with the Netanyahu trial since the first hearing is purely technical and witnesses are still potentially six months away.
The only reason that the trial has not started is that the top judges, with a push from acting Justice Minister Amir Ohana, decided they did not want it to begin in the eye of the coronavirus crisis.
It remains unclear whether the judges will continue to be nervous about starting the trial on May 24 or finally allow the case to open for a defendant whose final indictment was announced in November 2019.
But the impact on Netanyahu’s trial may not be the most powerful corona corruption effect.
At some point Netanyahu’s trial will start, because he has already been indicted.
The police announced their recommendation to indict Litzman in August 2019 for fraud, witness tampering and breach of public trust for allegedly interfering in the extradition of alleged pedophile Malka Leifer. In a second case, the police recommended indicting Litzman for bribery.
Despite the passing of nearly eight months, the Post has learned that during the coronavirus crisis, no progress has been made on the health minister’s cases.
For Litzman supporters, he is untouchable during this crisis, since he – with Netanyahu and his professional team – is responsible for leading the war against coronavirus.
For critics of his performance during this national crisis, there could not come a better time to oust him with an indictment. Some give him awful marks for his corona performance – including the prime minister and the head of the Mossad – and others simply see him as incompetent or irrelevant – including Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov and head of Public Health Sigal Sadetsky.
But the Post has learned that due to social distancing, infections and being overwhelmed by corona-related issues, the attorney-general and prosecution staff are not even trying to make progress on the issue.
Moreover, in August 2019, just one week after it was decided to indict Litzman, former state attorney Shai Nitzan recommended to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to indict Deri for tax crimes, fraud, money-laundering and some unspecified obstruction crimes.
Police had recommended indicting Deri almost a year before, in November 2018, after a nearly three-year probe.
IN 2000, Deri was convicted of bribery and served more than two years in prison after being forced to resign as a minister and stay out of politics until 2012.
Although some sought his resignation following the November 2018 announcement or prior to the April 2019 election or the following elections, Mandelblit and the prosecution continued to process the case slowly, even before corona.
The Post learned that since the coronavirus crisis started, like with Litzman, there has been and will be zero progress on the Deri case. However, the Deri case is even more blatant. The state prosecution’s recommendation has been on Mandelblit’s desk for eight months and he needs no one but himself to decide to move forward.
Mandelblit decided regarding Netanyahu within three months of Nitzan’s recommendation.
It is unclear why this decision has not gone forward, though obviously a decision to indict Deri could shake up coalition negotiations at a sensitive time.
But sensitive times did not stop Mandelblit from moving forward on some other key political corruption decisions.
Could Mandelblit be waiting for a government either run by Blue and White or balanced by Blue and White so that he can have greater confidence that his decision will not be ignored?
Either way, when we surface from this coronavirus crisis, the state will have suffered not just from germs but from a stalled or even halted fight against political corruption.