Today, 40 days before the elections, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has published his final and official decision on the criminal cases concerning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The decision is subject to a hearing. Mandelblit has decided that Netanyahu should be tried for fraud and breach of trust in both Case 1000 (the case involving gifts to Netanyahu and his wife Sara from Arnon Milchan) and Case 2000 (the Netanyahu-Mozes case). In Case 4000 (the Bezeq-Walla! case), he decided that Netanyahu should be tried for accepting a bribe.
Mandelblit has also decided on indictments against Shaul Elovitch, former controlling shareholder in Bezeq and Walla!, and his wife, Iris Elovitch, for giving Netanyahu a bribe. He further decided to indict "Yedioth Ahronoth" publisher Arnon Mozes for attempted bribery, subject to a hearing. The case against Arnon Milchan, who was investigated in Case 1000 on suspicion of giving gifts to Netanyahu, was closed.
The Attorney General's decision is unprecedented. It represents the first time that a serving prime minister in Israel faces being charged, subject to a hearing, with criminal offences of bribery, breach of trust and fraud. And for the first time, a general election will take place under the shadow of such charges. This is also the first time that the law enforcement agencies have regarded skewed media coverage as constituting a quid pro quo that can be considered a bribe.
In Case 4000, considered the most serious of the three, Netanyahu, who also served as minister of communications at the time, is accused promoting the interests of then Bezeq Israeli Telecommunication Co. Ltd. (TASE: BEZQ) controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in return for favorable coverage on the Walla! News website, which Bezeq owned. The Attorney General writes of frequent demands by Netanyahu for intervention in Walla!'s reporting, sometimes at unusual hours, over several years.
In Case 2000, which is perhaps the most complex from a legal point of view, from 2009 and over a period of years Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, publisher of Hebrew daily "Yediot Ahronot", met and discussed the possibility that Netanyahu would take steps to restrict rival newspaper "Israel Hayom", a daily freesheet, in return for a switch by "Yediot Ahronot" from critical to favorable coverage of Netanyahu. One of the difficulties for the Attorney General in this case is that the apparently corrupt deal between Netanyahu and Mozes did not materialize.
In Case 1000, film producer Arnon Milchan is alleged to have supplied frequent gifts of expensive drinks and cigars to Netanyahu and his family over a period of years, and to have bought jewelry for Sara Netanyahu. According to the police, in the period 2006-2017, the gifts amounted to a value of some NIS 750,000, and Netanyahu performed several favors for Milchan in return to do with the latter's business dealings.
In a broadcast this evening, Netanyahu responded to the charges by saying that under his leadership Israel had enjoyed the best decade in its history, noting the strong relationships he had built with US President Donald Trump, who today praised Netanyahu for his "strong, smart" leadership, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said that the left therefore despaired of bringing him down through the ballot box, and had brought "inhuman pressure" to bear on the Attorney General to indict him and to announce this decision in the midst of an election campaign, which he called "scandalous."
Netanyahu cited cases of Israeli politicians who had been indicted but subsequently found innocent, and said that the cases against him would have the same outcome, promising to continue leading the country for years to come.
Presumption of innocence: the legal proceedings against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Arnon Mozes, Shaul Elovitch, Iris Elovitch, and other suspects are still at an initial stage. All of them deny the allegations made against them. They will have pre-indictment hearings, and are entitled to the presumption of innocence.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 28, 2019
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019