Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit told the High Court of Justice on Thursday that he may close a plea deal with former minister Haim Katz in the coming three weeks, asking for an extension until October 21 to respond to a petition from a good-government NGO demanding an immediate indictment.
In October 2020, Mandelblit announced that he was leaning toward indicting senior Likud MK and former minister Katz for NIS 2.2 million in tax fraud.
In February 2020, under the prior government, the Knesset voted to grant Katz immunity from a prior indictment that Mandelblit had decided to file.
If no deal is reached, Mandelblit has also told the court that he may try once again to remove Katz's immunity regarding the prior indictment with the new Knesset as well as to indictment under the new tax fraud charges at the same time.
Previously, Mandelblit had sought an extension for plea deal negotiations from July until late September.
The shorter three-week extension request and the language Mandelblit used to describe the negotiations suggested that a deal could be finalized soon.
According to a previous Justice Ministry statement, between 2007-2018, Katz earned significant rental income from seven real estate properties in his name and in the name of certain family members.
The statement said that with regard to some of the properties, Katz had failed to report his rental income entirely to tax authorities, while with others he had only reported partially and significantly late.
Lawyer Navit Negev said that the charges were administrative and not criminal and that the only reason the allegations had been pushed into the criminal sphere was because of Katz’s political status.
She added that the allegations would be rebutted and the pre-indictment hearing, noting that even the ministry’s statement had recognized that some of the properties were not in Katz’s name.
In August 2019, Mandelblit announced he would file the earlier and even more serious indictment against Katz for fraud and breach of trust.
According to that indictment, Katz had violated conflict of interest principles in his economic dealings with Equital Ltd.’s Motti Ben-Ari on several occasions and covered it up to obtain illegal economic gains for the two of them.
Katz loudly supported a 2010 reform to the country’s insolvency laws which was allegedly specifically targeted to help Ben-Ari and Ben-Ari’s company – in which Katz himself also had heavy investments.
This would mean that Katz helped advance legislation to personally benefit himself and his primary financial adviser and close friend.
A spokeswoman for Katz noted that the Knesset had not only granted him immunity in February 2020, but also said that he had not committed even an ethical violation.
Though the Knesset saved Katz from that indictment going to court at the time, Mandelblit’s decision itself forced him to resign his ministerial portfolio, and any new Knesset can review the earlier Knesset's grant of immunity.
The newer tax charges might not give Katz a chance at parliamentary immunity since the tax violations were, unlike the prior charges, unrelated to his role as a public servant.
Mandelblit’s August 2019 decision had already cleared Katz of charges in a third affair, the Israel Aerospace Industries case, in which the police had recommended he be indicted.