High Court considers ordering state inquiry into Case 3000

Lawyers debate if alleged PM crimes had expired.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the opening ceremony for the Sha’ar Hagai Memorial on the road to Jerusalem on November 29. (photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY/POOL/VIA REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the opening ceremony for the Sha’ar Hagai Memorial on the road to Jerusalem on November 29.
The High Court of Justice on Monday entertained the possibility of ordering a state commission of inquiry of Case 3000, the Submarine Affair.
Although the three justice panel of Neal Hendel, Yitzhak Amit and Noam Sohlberg did not appear enthusiastic about the possibility, they did seem to seriously consider it as a compromise that would avoid having to ask the state prosecution to reopen the case.
The Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel and a variety of other petitioners have been pushing since mid-2020 to convince the High Court to compel Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to reopen the case against Netanyahu so that he can be interrogated under caution.
Mandelblit had previously decided that Netanyahu was not a suspect in the case, which meant he was only questioned as a fact witness, and had also previously closed a preliminary inquiry into the related Stock Affair without questioning Netanyahu.
The petitioners want to toss Netanyahu in as a suspect along with former top aides of his in a bribery scheme related to purchasing German submarines, and claim that Netanyahu’s gain came in a side deal with his cousin tycoon Natan Milikowsky who had indirect interests in the submarine deal going through.
The High Court has been expected to be critical of Netanyahu’s actions of acquiring nuclear powered submarines behind the back and over the objection of the defense establishment, but has also been expected to refrain from overturning Mandelblit’s conclusions.
Ordering a state commission of inquiry could be a middle ground that would give the petitioners some greater satisfaction.
Still, even that result was not a clear winner with the justices who wondered whether they had the authority to order such a commission, or whether it must be adopted by the government.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz had ordered the formation of exactly such a commission, but the commission members resigned last month out of protest at limits that Mandelblit had put on them in terms of what kinds of witnesses they could call.
The attorney-general has expressed concern that any such commission could harm the impending trial against a range of former top Netanyahu aides and top national security officials who he has said he will likely indict.
However, the Movement’s lawyer, Eliad Shraga said that Mandelblit was not following his office’s own regulations on the matter.
According to Shraga, Mandelblit could only interfere with such a commission if the criminal investigation itself was still ongoing.
Given that the investigation concluded years ago and that Mandelblit already announced who he will likely indict back in February 2020, Shraga said there is no basis to worry about a state commission moving forward.
However, Justice Sohlberg responded that Mandelblit was not blocking the creation of a commission, only limiting what it could probe, out of valid concerns about the impact on the impending trial.
Another major issue in which Shraga and state lawyer Shosh Shmueli delved into with the justices far more than has been publicly discussed to date, was the statute of limitations issue.
A major reason that the prosecution closed the case was, as they said, drawing any connection between Netanyahu and Milikowsky, which was critical to proving that the prime minister received and gave a benefit in the bribery scheme, was that even any alleged crime was more than 10 years old.
Essentially, Shmueli dated the allegations regarding Netanyahu and Milikowsky to 2007 and the related crimes would have expired by 2017.
Shraga responded that there were continuing benefits given between Netanyahu and Milikowsky all the way until 2010 which would have meant that the crimes could have been probed even as late as 2020 and that they would not have expired before the Submarine and Stock affairs came to light.
Yet, the justices pressed Shraga to explain his 2010 rationale, and did not seem particularly satisfied with his explanations.
It was unclear when the High Court would render a decision.