Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit indicated Thursday that he will not rule out making a decision on whether to bring corruption charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the April 9 elections. Netanyahu has asked that no decision be taken on his three investigations until after the elections, comparing it taking the arm of a thief who was later exonerated.
But a letter sent to the prime minister by a senior aide to the AG said that, "the work on the investigations concerning the prime minister, which began before the decision was taken to bring forward the elections, will continue as scheduled."
The letter does say, however, that Mandelblit is willing to meet with Netanyahu's lawyers to discuss the issue next week.
Netanyahu faces corruption charges in three cases: Case 1000, in which he and his family are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from wealthy donors; Case 2000, which concerns talks between him and Yedioth Ahronoth owner and publisher Arnon Mozes allegedly discussing favorable coverage for Netanyahu in return for the prime minister pushing legislation to weaken Yedioth's rival, Israel Hayom; and Case 4000, which concerns a suspected quid pro quo relationship between Netanyahu and former Bezeq majority shareholder Shaul Elovitch in which his Walla! news website allegedly provided Netanyahu and his family with positive coverage in return for regulatory benefits for Bezeq.
Judicial officials believe there is sufficient evidence against Netanyahu to indict him for fraud and breach of trust in a conflict of interest, and discussions are now focused on whether there is sufficient evidence for a bribery conviction as well.
The prime minister has long complained that the three investigations are the work of his political opponents, despite the fact that the attorney general he himself appointed is his former cabinet secretary.
In a video released earlier this month, Netanyahu addressed the possibility of being summoned to an indictment hearing before upcoming elections.
"For years, the media and left-wing demonstrators put brutal and inhuman pressure on the attorney general to get him to file an indictment against me at any price, even when there is nothing to prove," he said.
"These days, this pressure had reached its peak. They are trying to force the attorney general to intervene in the elections by declaring a hearing— when it is clear to all that it's impossible to complete an indictment hearing before the elections," Netanyahu said.
"Having an indictment hearing is absurd if you can't complete the hearing until the elections. It is inconceivable that the public will only get to hear one side… After all, cases have been closed in the past after both sides were heard. This is exactly why, knowing it cannot be completed until the elections, no indictment hearing was ever scheduled before elections. It also explains why the left is trying to do the opposite—their agenda is clear: to oust a prime minister by throwing a field trial and hijacking the elections from you, citizens of Israel."
Critics of the prime minister have speculated that he called the early elections in a bid to stave off an indictment.
According to media reports, Mandelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan are trying to complete work on the three investigations in the coming weeks and make a decision on whether to indict Netanyahu and on what charges about a month and a half before Israelis head to the polls. During a recent meeting held by Mandelblit with former attorneys general and state prosecutors, most of the attendees contended he must make the effort to conclude work on the cases before the elections, so that the public could be informed before placing their ballots.
Netanyahu maintains that he does not intend to resign or bow out of the election race if charges are filed against him.
"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."