If the hearings on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's immunity are significantly delayed, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will consider splitting the indictments against the suspects in cases 2000 and 4000 into separate trials. In such a case, the trials of Shaul and Iris Elovitch and Arnon Mozes will be moved forward and conducted separately from that of Netanyahu, sources close to Mandelblit told "Globes." Mandelblit nevertheless prefers a single indictment and trial of Netanyahu, Mozes, and the Elovitches.
Trying Netanyahu separately has significant disadvantages, the chief of which is the need to summon all or most of the prosecution witnesses to testify twice. If separate trials are held, the resources that the State Attorney's Office and the legal system will have to invest in cases 2000 and 4000 will be much larger: more prosecutors, more judges, more hearings, etc.
On the other hand, Mandelblit fears that the Knesset discussion on Netanyahu's request for immunity will be held only after the elections, and will be concluded many months from now. Mandelblit is afraid that delay in the discussions of Netanyahu's request for immunity will affect the situation of the Elovitches and Mozes, and result in unnecessary prolonging of the legal proceedings against the three.
One affair, two trials
Splitting the trials against defendants on charges of giving or offering a bribe (the Elovitches and Mozes) and the defendant on charges of receiving a bribe (Netanyahu) has major disadvantages, but can also have advantages. Conducting one trial for suspects accused of bribing a public servant and a second trial of a public servant accused of accepting a bribe occurs when the State Attorney's Office wants to use the testimony of the person who gave the bribe against the person who received it.
In a situation in which the State Attorney's Office wants one accused to testify against another, it files two separate indictments against them and conducts two separate trials.
This is what happened, and what is happening in the Yisrael Beitenu affair (case 242). The economic department in the State Attorney's Office wanted to use testimony and police interrogation of the parties accused of giving a bribe to former Deputy Minister of the Interior Faina Kirschenbaum, whose trial is currently taking place, and former Yisrael Beitenu chief of staff David Godovsky, who was convicted and sentenced to a six-year prison term. The State Attorney's Office decided to file two separate indictments and conduct two separate trials in the same case.
The Ehud Olmert precedent
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was acquitted in the first trial in the Talansky case. Shula Zaken, his former secretary, who was also accused in the same trial, refused to testify in the trial. Olmert was only convicted in a second trial in the Talansky case, after Zaken signed a state witness agreement and agreed to testify against Olmert. Had Zaken's trial been separated from that of Olmert from the beginning, she could have been forced to testify, and the situation might have been different.
Mandelblit's decision on splitting the trials between Netanyahu and the other three defendants depends on the length of the discussions of Netanyahu's request for immunity. In recent days, given the position taken by the Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon, it emerged that the discussions would be quick, and would begin and end within a few weeks, during the current Knesset's term. In this case, the indictment against Netanyahu and the three other accused will be submitted to the Jerusalem District Court in February.
The question of the prime minister's immunity is still at the top of Israel's political agenda. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) met yesterday with MK Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White), but they failed to reach agreement on the forming of the Knesset House Committee. Yinon also attended the meeting.
Edelstein's office stated, "The speaker listened attentively to the views of MK Nissenkorn, and obtained the opinion of the Knesset legal adviser about the possibility of establishing the Knesset House Committee to discuss the prime minister's request for immunity. The opinion is mainly the same as the one given by the Knesset legal adviser several weeks ago."
Blue and White stated, "Edelstein must not violate the most sacred institution Israeli democracy. We call on him to allow the formation of a Knesset committee to discuss the immunity requested by Netanyahu. The Knesset must not become a refuge for someone accused of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Edelstein, you were elected speaker of the Knesset, not chairperson of Netanyahu's Knesset headquarters. You should act accordingly."
When will the Knesset House Committee be convened?
Yinon said this week that while it was difficult to convene the Knesset House Committee, "Despite the various difficulties arising in holding immunity discussions after the Knesset passed a law dissolving itself and is in an election recess, and even though it sets a precedent, my view is that none of this means that the Knesset House Committee and the Knesset plenum cannot discuss and rule on requests for immunity at the present time."
Blue and White MKs continued to attack the Knesset speaker. MK Yair Lapid told Channel 13, "Edelstein is acting as Netanyahu's representative in preventing a basic democratic measure - a cornerstone of democracy - the convening of the Knesset House Committee to discuss Netanyahu's request for immunity. This is improper, and if Edelstein continues in this way, there will be consequences."
Lapid added that Blue and White was "considering the options," including deposing Edelstein as Knesset speaker. He declared, "We won't hesitate to act. We have a Knesset majority. Yisrael Beitenu has announced that it opposes immunity. Edelstein is putting us in a position in which a prime minister with three indictments for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust is asking for immunity, and it is not even being discussed.
"There is nothing that Netanyahu has not done in order to evade a trial. This is an indecent request, and the backing that Edelstein is giving for it is also indecent."
Netanyahu asked Edelstein last week for the current Knesset or the next one to grant him immunity against criminal prosecution.
Netanyahu said, "The Knesset Members (Immunity, Rights, and Duties) Law is designed to protect elected public servants against being framed. The law is designed to ensure that elected public servants will be able to serve the people according to the will of the people, not the will of un-elected government officials. President Reuven Rivlin stated this precisely." Netanyahu quoted what Rivlin said years ago, referring to concern about persecution by the authorities.
Netanyahu added, "In a democracy, only the people decide. For all of these reasons, I intend to ask the Knesset speaker, in accordance with Article 4C of the Law, to exercise my right, my duty, and my mission, and to continue serving the Jewish people."
Presumption of innocence: We emphasize that even after the decision to file an indictment against them, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Shaul and Iris Elovitch, and Arnon Mozes are merely suspects. They deny the offenses of which they are accused, and are entitled to a presumption of innocence.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 6, 2020
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