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Israels Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit (R) during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.(Photo by: MENAHEM KAHANA / REUTERS)
Netanyahu, Mandelblit may head to High Court over pre-indictment hearing date
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to appeal to the High Court of Justice as AG turns down request to postpone hearing.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit may be headed to the High Court of Justice over a dispute regarding the prime minister’s pre-indictment hearing date for likely bribery charges.

The battle over the date is highly significant both because it allows Netanyahu to continue to dominate the news cycle with talking points that he is being victimized, as well as because when the actual date falls, it could determine whether the prime minister will need to resign upon being indicted.

If the current October 2-3 hearing date stands, Netanyahu will likely be unable to pass new laws to prevent his prosecution while acting as prime minister before Mandelblit can indict him.

If the date is pushed off even a few more months, the prime minister would have a better opportunity to pass such new legislation.

Because of the stakes and neither side backing down, Netanyahu may petition to the High Court, presuming Mandelblit, on Monday, ends up rejecting the prime minister’s renewed request for an extension.

Mandelblit had said he hoped that Netanyahu would agree by Monday to the October 2-3 hearing date.

Late Thursday, Mandelblit already rejected Netanyahu’s request for a second delay to his pre-indictment hearing beyond October 2-3.

Netanyahu requested a second delay on Wednesday, arguing that it was necessary in light of the unexpected new elections that will be taking place. But Mandelblit said that the new elections did not justify a second delay.

Furthermore, he said that he had already agreed to delay the hearing until October 2-3, even though his pre-indictment announcement dated back to February 28 and the original hearing date was set for July 10.

When Mandelblit agreed to postpone the July 10 date, he also agreed to postpone hearings for other defendants in the prime minister’s cases until August 15. However, they are not getting any further delays either, which also appeared to be part of the decision to not grant Netanyahu a second delay.

Mandelblit announced the rejection in the context of trying to fight off an already-filed petition to the High Court from the opposite direction: a demand by the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel that he stick to his original July 10 hearing date.

The attorney-general is expected to file an indictment against Netanyahu for bribery and breach of public trust sometime in the next six months relating to three separate public corruption affairs.

His rejection on Thursday of the prime minister’s request for an extension was striking in how quickly he brushed it off, appearing to be adamant about the issue after showing flexibility on the first postponement.

Netanyahu responded to the rejection with a counterattack, claiming that Mandelblit and the state prosecution had allowed a two-year delay of a pre-indictment hearing in a case against a judge.

A spokesman for Netanyahu said it was unfair that for such a simple case of a building violation, a judge could get a two-year extension for his pre-indictment hearing, whereas the prime minister’s much more complex case gets a much shorter extension.
“This is the definition of injustice,” said the prime minister’s statement. “It is thoroughly shocking.”

Following this counterattack, Justice Ministry Spokesman Moshe Cohen issued a clarification to explain why Mandelblit viewed the analogy as out of place. Cohen said it was true that the prosecution told Judge Ziad Falah two years ago that it was considering indicting him for a low-grade building-zoning violation.

However, Cohen said the pre-indictment hearing took place through the filing of legal briefs (waiving an oral argument) within only one month of the pre-indictment announcement, much sooner than the seven months that Netanyahu has been given.

Further, he said that following the pre-indictment hearing, responsibility for a final decision was transferred to the land appeals department. He also explained that building-zoning crimes in the land appeals department are considered extremely low-grade offenses and a low priority.

This means that typically, these cases take much longer to resolve for all suspects who might be indicted, not just for that judge, said Cohen, noting that the prosecution does not invest major resources in dealing with the cases. In contrast, a Justice Ministry spokeswoman clarified that the case against Netanyahu, including bribery charges, was far more serious.
Due to this, his case was on a regular track for a bribery case, not the extremely delayed track for unimportant building-zoning cases.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has formally ended his relationship with lawyer Navot Tel Zur, leaving only lawyer Amit Hadad. The prime minister is expected to try to add additional new lawyers to his staff, both to get some more senior personalities involved and because adding new lawyers might give him a new argument for an extension so that his new lawyers can prepare.

Netanyahu has a history of blowing through lawyers, especially recently as he is trying to get his legal bills paid by tycoon-allies, something which the State Comptroller committee has blocked to date.
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