Indictments Said Ready; Netanyahu to Speak at Prime Time

YERUSHALAYIM -
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will make a statement at prime time in Israel, 8:00 p.m. Thursday night, in which he will relate to the announcement that is expected from State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit regarding whether Netanyahu should be indicted in any of the corruption cases he is being investigated in. In the statement, the Likud said that when he had an opportunity to present his side of the story at an orderly hearing, as was his right, “all of these allegations will collapse.”

Media reports Thursday afternoon said that an indictment had already been prepared against Netanyahu in three of the cases against him. In Case 1000, Netanyahu was accused of accepting extravagant gifts from millionaire Arnon Milchin, mostly cigars and champagne. He will be indicted on charges of breach of trust.

In Case 2000, an alleged deal in which Yediot Acharonot publisher Arnon Mozes offered the Prime Minister better coverage in his newspaper in return for help in passing legislation against his newspaper’s competition, Netanyahu will also be charged with breach of trust. These are seen as relatively “light” charges for actions that are open to interpretation, and will likely end in a reprimand or similar result.

More problematic for the Prime Minister is Case 4000, also known as the Bezeq-Walla News case. Case 4000 is the influence-peddling probe that alleges that Netanyahu offered his good services to Israeli billionaire Shaul Elovich in return for positive coverage on the Walla news site. According to police, Elovich offered Netanyahu a quid pro quo deal of “better coverage” for the Prime Minister on the Walla site if the Prime Minister would help him get out of the financial bind he found himself in. At the heart of the scandal are favors that were allegedly done for Elovich, the majority shareholder in Bezeq and the Walla news site.

In this case, Mandelblit is likely to recommend an indictment on bribery charges, but according to attorneys for the Prime Minister quoted on Channel 20, Case 4000 is perhaps the weakest case against Netanyahu. The Prime Minister has claimed throughout the investigation that he acted properly, and made recommendations based on the input of professionals in the Communications Ministry.

Earlier this month, the Israeli weekly Davar Rishon unveiled a “missing” document that describes the history of the merger between YES and Bezeq, a deal Elovich was very interested in. The document had not been included in the documents examined by police, prosecutors, or Mandelblit, the report said. It is not clear why the document was not released, and Netanyahu’s attorneys said they would demand an investigation to discover if it was deliberately suppressed. Since then, the newspaper has discovered other documents that substantiate Netanyahu’s claims, his attorneys said.

In its statement Thursday afternoon, the Likud said that the entire case was “a house of cards built on pressure from the media, state witnesses who were intimidated, fake news, nonsense about food trays and cigars, and ignoring the fact that 43 MKs supported the Yisrael Hayom law Mozes sought to pass – which Netanyahu himself opposed.”

In addition, the statement said, Netanyahu’s attorneys had called for some 60 witnesses to provide input into the case, but Mandelblit and police failed to interview them. “They did not allow Netanyahu to confront the state witnesses, as is customary. Coverage of Netanyahu in Walla News was and remains negative. The Justice Ministry agrees that the Bezeq-YES deal was approved without any intervention from Netanyahu. No one has investigated how Ehud Olmert amassed a pen collection worth NIS 1.2 million. The investigation against Netanyahu is a targeted ‘political hit.’ Our answer will come at the election booth – when Netanyahu is reelected.”

President Donald Trump, with whom Netanyahu has forged a close connection, offered the Israeli leader a boost ahead of the expected announcement.

“I just think he’s been a great prime minister and I don’t know about his difficulty but you tell me something people have been hearing about, but I don’t know about that,” he said in response to a question in Hanoi, where he was holding a summit with the leader of North Korea.

“I can say this: that he’s done a great job as prime minister. He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s strong,” Trump said.

Netanyahu rushed back Wednesday from a diplomatic mission to Moscow, and a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, to prepare for his expected rebuttal to the charges on Thursday.