With Netanyahu facing indictment, legal team has ‘new evidence’ as hearings begin

Netanyahu’s lawyers will try to convince the attorney general to drop or reduce the charges in three cases pending against the prime minister.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers began a four-day marathon of pre-indictment hearings in the Ministry of Justice on Wednesday during which they will try to convince Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to drop or at least reduce the corruption charges hanging over the prime minister in three separate cases.

Before going into the meetings, Netanyahu’s legal team stated that it had new evidence that it would present in the hearings to turn the tide in favor of the prime minister.

The team says it is not seeking a plea bargain or presidential pardon.

Wednesday and Thursday are to be devoted to what is known as Case 4000, the one that is considered by the prosecution as the most serious, as it includes the charge of bribery, as well as fraud and breach of trust.

The State Attorney’s Office believes that Netanyahu pushed for regulatory changes that benefited Bezeq Telecom controlling shareholder and Walla news outlet owner Shaul Elovitch to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in return for positive coverage of the prime minister by Walla. Elovitch is also being charged in this case.

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Netanyahu has already publicly noted a primary defense line that he will use: even though he was communications minister at the time, he did not and could not make the changes on his own. In order for the regulatory revisions to go into effect, professional committees had to accept them, and they did, he argues. The fact that Elovitch made a profit because of it cannot therefore be laid at his feet, Netanyahu insists.

At the beginning of next week, the lawyers are to address Cases 1000 and 2000, in which Netanyahu is facing charges of fraud and breach of trust.

The first alleges that Netanyahu and his wife wrongfully received some $200,000 worth of champagne, cigars, and jewelry from two billionaires, Arnon Milchan and James Packer. The prosecution is alleging that in exchange, the prime minister helped their business interests. The two have not been charged in the case, and Netanyahu says that the items he received were simply gifts between friends.

Case 2000 involves an alleged deal Netanyahu made with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, under ther terms of which the prime minister would get a law passed that would hurt the daily’s main rival, Israel Hayom, in exchange for gaining positive coverage in Mozes’ newspaper and sister website. The law passed only a preliminary reading in the Knesset in 2014 before getting buried in committee, and Netanyahu has claimed that he called for elections that year instead of allowing it to go through.

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Having steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout the years of investigations, Netanyahu attempted last week to persuade Mandelblit to air the hearings live.

The prime minister argued that it would offset “a deluge of biased, partial leaks” that have been part of a prolonged “media lynch” against him. The request was rejected, and the meetings are being held behind closed doors.