Israel’s attorney general decided to bring charges in all three investigations against Netanyahu.
By David Isaac, World Israel News
Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced on Thursday that he will file charges in all three criminal investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The decision was expected throughout the day, and tension was high in political circles ahead of the long-awaited announcement.
The charges came despite a last-minute Likud effort to convince Israel’s High Court of Justice on Thursday to stop the attorney general from making the announcement, arguing that it would cause “unprecedented interference” in the political system. However, High Court justice Noam Sohlberg rejected the petition.
Netanyahu faces charges in Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000.
In Case 4000, (aka the Bezeq-Walla! Affair) Mandelblit charged Netanyahu with bribery. In Case 1000, (the Illegal Gifts Affair) Mandelblit brought lesser charges of fraud and breach of trust. In Case 2000, (the Yediot Ahronot-Israel Hayom Affair) Mandelblit will charge with breach of trust only.
Case 4000 is reportedly the strongest case against Netanyahu in the opinion of the State Attorney’s Office. In that case, Netanyahu is accused of driving through a merger for businessman Shaul Elovitch in return for favorable coverage on website Walla!
Netanyahu maintains that the merger involving Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications firm and Yes, a satellite TV provider, both owned by Elovitch, was carried out by the book. Netanyahu also argues that coverage at Walla! was not positive toward him, undermining the case.
In a statement released Wednesday night, the prime minister’s office said “the accusations of corruption are absurd, the prime minister didn’t give to or receive anything from Elovitch.”
Israel’s Channel 20, in a series examining the cases, appears to confirm the prime minister’s claim about the nature of Walla’s news coverage, finding that during the 2015 campaign period, 75 percent of the columns in Walla! were hostile to Netanyahu.
Cases 1000 & 2000
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of accepting expensive gifts in the form of fancy cigars and champagne from tycoons James Packer from Australia and Israeli Arnon Milchan in exchange for political favors. Netanyahu doesn’t deny receiving the gifts but does deny giving anything in return.
In Case 2000, the prime minister is charged with conspiring with Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, to punish the rival paper Israel Hayom in return for better news coverage from Mozes. The deal would have involved legislation that would have drastically curtailed the circulation of Israel Hayom, a free daily.
Netanyahu denies wrongdoing in Case 2000 as well, arguing that far from helping hurt Israel Hayom, he dissolved the Knesset to prevent a law that would have hurt the paper from passing.
The million-dollar question for Netanyahu and his Likud is what impact the indictment will have on the party’s election prospects. At least one poll found the announcement of an indictment would cost the Likud four seats in the Knesset. Internal party polling reportedly confirms the loss of seats.
As a result, Netanyahu had made a number of efforts to prevent the attorney general’s announcement ahead of the elections. On December 31, in Brazil, Netanyahu said in response to earlier rumors that he would be indicted and that he opposed the idea of starting an indictment, a process which involves a hearing to see if the case should go to trial, before the elections.
“Imagine what would happen if a prime minister is ousted before the hearing is finished, and then after the hearing they decide to close the case. It’s absurd. It’s a terrible blow to democracy,” he said.
On January 31, Netanyahu sent his attorneys to try and convince Mandelblit not to present his findings before the elections, arguing that an indictment and hearing could influence the Israeli public’s vote.
Mandelblit refused their request, sticking to argument made earlier by his aide, Dr. Gil Limon, in an earlier letter that the investigation was proceeding according to a timetable set out before early elections were called.