Likud seeks to stall expected AG call for Netanyahu indictments
The prime minister expected to face charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three graft probes, pending hearing; Israeli-American billionaire Arnon Milchan will likely not be charged, but Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes and ex-Bezeq boss Shaul Elovitch do face indictments.
What started in January 2, 2017 — when police investigators first arrived at the official residence in Jerusalem to question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on suspicions of corruption against him — was expected reach the moment of truth on Thursday with an announcement by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on whether or not he sought to indict Netanyahu in three cases, exactly 40 days before Israelis go to the polls.
But with just hours to go before Mandelblit's anticipated decision, the Likud Party filed a motion with the Supreme Court to stop the announcement from happening before the April 9 elections, on the grounds that it would unfairly impact on Netanyahu's prospects of re-election.
"The decision to hold the announcement today is the result of pressure by leftist thugs, and constitues blunt intervention in the election process," the motion said.
According to TV reports on Wednesday evening, Mandelblit has decided to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing in all three cases.
In Cases 1000, Netanyahu and his family are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from wealthy donors. In Case 2000, Netanyahu is suspected of trying to negotiate favorable coverage in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily (Ynetnews' sister publication) in return for promoting legislation against rival paper Israel Hayom. In Case 4000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving favorable coverage on the Walla! News website in return for regulatory benefits to telecommunications giant Bezeq, which owns the site.
Mandelblit is expected to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and Case 2000, and with bribery in Case 4000.
Billionaire and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, who is a suspect in Case 1000, will reportedly not be charged, while Yedioth Ahronoth owner and publisher Arnon Mozes, who is a suspect in Case 2000, is expected to be indicted for bribery, pending a hearing. Finally, former Bezeq majority shareholder Shaul Elovitch, who is a suspect in Case 4000, will also reportedly be charged with bribery.
The attorney general will inform the lawyers of each of the suspects of his decision and offer to hold a hearing for each of them, after they've received materials on the main findings of the police investigation against them. The investigative materials, however, will only be provided to the suspects after the April 9 elections, to ensure the information doesn't leak to the press and is used in propaganda against Netanyahu in the run up to the vote.
Mandelblit's public statement will include some 20 pages, including the main charges against each of the suspect. The statement will also include State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan's position on each of the cases.
Netanyahu, who was in Moscow on Wednesday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, dismissed the reports on Mandelblit's expected decision.
"The accusations of bribery are ridiculous," said a statement on his behalf. "Prime Minister Netanyahu never received anything from not gave anything to Elovitch. The coverage on Walla! was negative and intensified ahead of the elections. Every decision regarding Bezeq was approved by the responsible regulators and the prime minister acted flawlessly, as determined by the justice ministry in an official document.”
Initially, the criminal investigation against Netanyahu, which was launched in January 2017, concerned Case 1000, but over the two years that have passed the investigation branched out, and the prime minister was questioned about a dozen times in that cas and two others: Case 2000 and Case 4000.
This case, which is also known as the "illicit gifts affair," concerns gifts the prime minister and his family allegedly received from American billionaire Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. The gifts mostly included champagne and expensive cigars.
The investigation found there was an alleged organized system, which operated for about a decade, with Netanyahu and his family demanding and then receiving gifts worth a total of some NIS 1 million.
In return for the gifts, Netanyahu allegedly used his position to influence government policy for the betterment of his associates, particularly Milchan.
Tax benefits - One such favor was the premier's invested interest in extending tax benefits for returning residents to over 10 years, something the police estimated would have saved Milchan millions of dollars. Finance Ministry officials rejected the proposal, saying it was contrary to the public interest, because fewer taxes would be collected.
US visa - Netanyahu is also suspected of working to aid Milchan renew his visa to the US. The prime minister allegedly turned to then-US Secretary of State John Kerry, then-US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and Israel's Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, asking for their help in extending Milchan's visa.
Channel 2 merger - The prime minister allegedly worked to promote the merger of the two TV networks that shared Channel 2, Keshet and Reshet, which Milchan sought to run, in addition to owning shares in commercial competitor, Channel 10.
"Communications Ministry Director-General Shlomo Filber intervened and acted on behalf of Netanyahu in order to advance Milchan's affairs. In return, the prime minister was promised sympathetic coverage (from Channels 2 and 10)," police said.
The Tata project - According to the police, the most glaring example of Netanyahu working against Israel's interests to benefit Milchan was his efforts promote a free trade zone on the Israel-Jordan border, a project Milchan sought to promote as part of his partnership with Indian industrialist Ratan Naval Tata.
The project, which police noted went against the recommendations of the defense establishment, would have generated Milchan and Tata "a huge profit," but ended up being scrapped because it would've cost the state an unreasonable amount in security expenses.
Channel 10 - Netanyahu allegedly acted in violation of the law when he handled the affairs of Channel 10, despite knowing his friend Milchan owned shares in the channel.
According to the police, Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth owner and publisher Arnon Mozes discussed mutual assistance to promote one another's interests during private meetings that began in 2009 and lasted for several years.
As part of these talks, the two allegedly discussed the possibility of Mozes helping Netanyahu secure his position as prime minister through positive and favorable coverage in Yedioth Ahronoth. In return, the prime minister would aid Mozes to promote Yedioth's financial interests by initiating and supporting moves to weaken rival newspaper Israel Hayom.
The investigation further found Netanyahu and Mozes took actual steps to promote each other's interests as part of the understandings reached between them, "or at the very least made it appear to the other they were doing so," police noted.
Among the steps Netanyahu allegedly took to aid Mozes were: his support of a bill to prevent the free distribution of newspapers, dubbed the "Israel Hayom bill" as the daily is handed out for free; his efforts to reduce Israel Hayom's distribution; and his efforts to cancel the paper's weekend edition.
In addition, Netanyahu, the minister of communications at the time, allegedly mediated between Mozes and potential buyers for Yedioth Ahronoth.
The police investigation was based on two recordings made at Netanyahu's behest and without Mozes' knowledge. The recordings document meetings between Netanyahu and Mozes at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem and were recorded by his then-chief of staff Ari Harow on his cellphone. Harow has turned state's witness.
Both Netanyahu and Mozes claimed to the police that they did not truly intend to promote the matters discussed in their talks.
This case, which is also known as the "Walla!-Bezeq affair," is considered by police and the Israel Securities Authority as the gravest of the three cases. Two of Netanyahu's top confidants—former Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber and former media advisor Nir Hefetz—have turned state's witness and are believed to have provided police with incriminating evidence.
Netanyahu is suspected of taking bribes and acting in a conflict of interest by promoting regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Bezeq and its then-majority shareholder Shaul Elovitch, including Bezeq's merger with the satellite TV company Yes. In return, the prime minister allegedly demanded—both directly and indirectly—to receive favorable coverage on Walla! News, which is owned by Bezeq.
According to the police investigation, from 2012 to 2017 the prime minister and his associates "blatantly intervened" on a near-daily basis in the Walla! News site, using the connections with Elovitch and his wife Iris to influence appointments there and to promote flattering articles and pictures while quelling critical stories of the prime minister and his family.
Police also said the Elovitch couple influenced the content published on Walla! News in return for regulatory decisions made by Netanyahu, which benefitted Shaul Elovitch and the Bezeq company.
Elovitch and his wife Iris are also suspected of giving bribes, obstruction of justice and money laundering.
In addition, Stella Handler, the former CEO of Bezeq, and Amikam Shorer, the former chief strategy and corporate development Officer at Bezeq, could also face charges.
Arnon Mozes is the publisher and owner of Yedioth Ahronoth Group, which includes Ynet and Ynetnews.