Israeli police recommend indicting Netanyahu for corruption

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    Police contend that retired Judge Oded Mudrik, who has recently become Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer, could have a conflict of interest in his role as head of a disciplinary tribunal in a case involving the police.

    The tribunal Mudrik heads is hearing a disciplinary complaint against a police officer, T, who once filed a sexual harassment complaint against former police Maj. Gen. Roni Ritman. Ritman, before resigning amid sexual harassment allegations, had headed the prestigious police unit Lahav 433, which had been investigating the corruption allegations against Netanyahu.

    The case Mudrik is hearing against T. involves not observing clocking-in regulations and for conduct unbecoming a police officer when she said of other policewomen that “they’re stupid and don’t understand anything about life.” According to the police, the conflict of interest exists because some of the officers scheduled to testify to the tribunal were involved in the Netanyahu investigations.

    Recently there were media reports hinting that the prime minister’s associates might have been behind T.’s earlier struggles against Ritman. As a result, Mudrik asked both sides, the police and T., if they saw any problem with him continuing as head of the disciplinary tribunal.

    T. last week told the tribunal that reports hinting that the prime minister was somehow behind the battle she had waged against Ritman were false. “These insinuations have no grain of truth and constitute a serious libel,” she said. Removing Mudrik would disrupt the proceedings, she contended. T. also asked for the police to clarify that “there’s no grounds for linking Supt. T. to the prime minister.”

    But the police refused to do this. In the response submitted Sunday the police wrote that it was true that, “Representatives of the prosecution are not involved in the investigations of the prime minister and are not exposed to the materials collected by them, so they cannot express a firm position on the question the head of the tribunal has asked them.”

    However, the police also said that during the disciplinary hearings, there will be witnesses for the plaintiff [the police] that are involved in the prime minister’s investigations, “Which could raise a concern of conflict of interest, if only seemingly,” given that the presiding jurist is now the prime minister’s lawyer. The police also argued that in previous hearings T. and her commander had indicated that they planned to summon both former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh and Ritman himself to testify. This would certainly pose a conflict of interest, given that Ritman had headed Lahav 433 during the Netanyahu investigations.

    T. on Sunday called the whole disciplinary procedure “a vengeful pursuit against her.”

    At a conference two weeks ago Mudrik said that since he started working for the prime minister, he was examining all his activities to avoid being involved in anything that would pose a conflict of interest or be otherwise inappropriate.
     
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    There’s no realistic possibility that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t be indicted, a former state prosecutor said Saturday.

    “Theoretically, anything is possible, but it’s very unrealistic,” Moshe Lador said, speaking at a public forum in Mevasseret Zion, outside of Jerusalem.

    On Wednesday, the state prosecution recommended that Netanyahu be charged with taking bribes in two of the corruption investigations being conducted against him.

    Lador based his conclusion on Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s closely involvement in the investigations, including signing agreements to turn state’s evidence with three people.

    “The prosecution’s recommendation didn’t land on the attorney general’s desk out of the blue,” Lador explained. “He’s been sitting at the head of the table for two years, perhaps almost three, and has monitored the police investigators and the prosecutors handling the case. So he’s very familiar with the material, like all the other members of this forum. Thus nothing there ought to be new to him.”

    In one case, Netanyahu is suspected of conferring regulatory benefits on the Bezeq telecommunications company in exchange for favorable coverage from Walla, the firm’s news website. In the other, he is suspected of discussing a deal under which the Yedioth Ahronoth daily would provide favorable coverage if he took measures to undermine Yedioth’s main rival, the free daily Israel Hayom.

    Lador rejected Netanyahu’s claims that his talks with both media outlets were standard practice between politicians and journalists and that favorable coverage doesn’t constitute a bribe.

    “Not everyone does this,” Lador said. “And even if there are meetings between editors in chief and politicians interested in favorable coverage, the moment what you receive from me is conditioned on what I expect from you, this is an unacceptable situation that could easily prove to be bribery.”

    Asked by the event’s moderator, the veteran journalist Shalom Yerushalmi, whether this analysis was valid even if, as in the Yedioth case, the alleged deal was never carried out, Lador replied, “If I shoot a man with the intention of hurting him, but he isn’t hurt, am I not committing a crime?” He noted that under Israeli law, attempting to commit a crime is a crime in its own right, even if the actual crime never takes place.

    “In the crime of bribery, it’s not at all important for the bribe taker to have done what he promised, and it doesn’t even matter if he never intended to do what he promised,” Lador continued, referring to Netanyahu’s claim that he never intended to carry out the deal with Yedioth. “It’s enough that whoever gave him the bribe assumed and expected that he would then do something to his benefit, even if he didn’t actually do so.”

    The third case against Netanyahu, in which prosecutors recommended that he be charged with breach of trust rather than bribery, involved his receipt of expensive gifts from businessmen. It is commonly termed “the gifts case” in Hebrew, but Lador said this name is inappropriate for a case in which goods worth hundreds of thousands of shekels were routinely delivered to the prime minister’s residence.

    “They weren’t bringing this for a birthday or a dinner, the way we all sometimes give a bottle of wine or a book,” he said. “Based on what has been reported, the recipients would call and say, ‘Look, the goods are about to run out, so you have to arrange a continued supply.’ I am absolutely not willing to accept that these were gifts. These aren’t gifts.

    “None of us is familiar with a situation like this — a regular arrangement for luxuries on demand, via other people, with no connection to the timing, to a holiday, to a bar mitzvah or a wedding. ... This kind of friendship isn’t pure friendship; there’s an interest that’s being supplied continuously by IV.”

    What the businessmen gain in exchange, Lador added, is a close relationship with the prime minister. “This friendship gives the businessman stature, stardust,” he said. “But it also gives him an address to which he can turn if he needs it.”
     
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    Netanyahu: I won’t resign if attorney general announces intention to indict
    ‘Imagine if ultimately the case was closed, and a prime minister had been ousted,’ Netanyahu says. That would be ‘a terrible blow to democracy’
    31 December 2018

    https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-i-wont-resign-if-summoned-for-a-hearing-pending-indictment/

    In his most specific comments to date on the prospect of corruption cases forcing his ouster, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said he would not resign if the attorney general decides on pressing charges against him before elections.

    Asked during a press conference in Brazil, where he is on a visit, how he would proceed if summoned by the attorney general for a hearing, which is final step before charges are filed, Netanyahu said: “If that happens, I won’t resign.”

    He said he was not required to do so under the law, and that he remains convinced that the three corruption cases against him will yield “nothing.”

    “Israel is a country of law, and the law does not require that a prime minister resign during the process of a hearing,” he said.

    Should Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit decide to press charges against Netanyahu, he would announce the indictment pending a hearing, after which charges could be filed with a court.

    The requirement for the attorney general to provide a hearing for a suspect before a final decision to press charges against him, Netanyahu said, exists precisely so that the suspect’s side of the story is heard. “The hearing doesn’t end until my side is heard,” he said.

    “And therefore it is not logical to open a hearing process before elections if you can’t finish it before elections.”

    “Imagine what happens if you oust a prime minister before the end of the hearing process, and at the end of the hearing it is decided to close the case,” he said. “That would be absurd, and a terrible blow to democracy.”

    He added: “In a democracy, leaders are chosen through a vote, not through a partially completed legal process.”

    Reminded that he had said of Ehud Olmert, 10 years ago, that a prime minister “up to his neck” in corruption allegations had no “public or moral mandate to make fateful decisions for the state of Israel” and that there was a concern that he might be swayed by narrow “personal interests,” Netanyahu said the situations were not comparable.

    “The quotation you gave related to political steps that Olmert intended to take [in negotiations with the Palestinians] on the eve of elections, which in my opinion was unacceptable … in the situation that he was in,” said Netanyahu.

    But “I didn’t say that he had to resign… I said he couldn’t initiate a major political plan on the eve of elections… I stand by that opinion. I don’t intend to initiate a major political initiative on the eve of elections.”

    Netanyahu’s public comments on Monday followed reported remarks last week in which he was said to have told his inner circle that he believed Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit “won’t dare” to announce charges against him before the national ballot.

    Even if he is indicted, Netanyahu — who has been implicated in three criminal cases — will not cave to public pressure to step down as premier and fight the charges as a private citizen, the report in the Israel Hayom daily said Thursday. Instead, if elected, he will remain in the top job throughout his public trial, the paper, considered pro-Netanyahu, quoted him as saying.

    The law does not clearly state that a prime minister who has been indicted must resign. Rather, it says he must step down only after he has been convicted of an offense that carries moral turpitude, like bribery or breach of trust, and the appeal process has been exhausted.

    The Knesset can ask the prime minister to step down before that process is complete, but if it does not, he can, in theory, remain in office.

    According to the Israel Hayom report, Netanyahu is planning on doing just that, and would even fight a potential Supreme Court decision that he must step down.

    In the 1993 corruption case of Shas politician Aryeh Deri (who was then, and is again now, interior minister), then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin did not want to oust him even after an indictment was filed by the attorney general. However, an appeal to the Supreme Court left him with no choice.

    “There’s no similar determination with regard to the prime minister, and it can be argued both ways whether it applies to the prime minister,” Israeli criminal and constitutional law expert Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer told The Times of Israel this week, adding that Netanyahu would likely challenge a decision by the court for him to step down.

    According to the Law on Knesset members’ immunity, the Knesset can give an MK parliamentary immunity from prosecution if it is persuaded that they are a victim of a vendetta.

    Knesset members are permitted, within 30 days of being indicted, to ask the Knesset to give them immunity from criminal prosecution for various reasons, including that the offense allegedly committed was done in the fulfillment of the MK’s legislative duties or “the indictment is not issued in good faith or as a consequence of discrimination,” a claim Netanyahu has already made by alleging a conspiracy against him.

    Last week’s announcement that elections will be held in April — seven months earlier than planned — came as Mandelblit began reviewing the criminal cases against Netanyahu, marking the most high-stakes stage yet of a several-year legal entanglement that could upend the country’s political system. Reports before the announcement of early elections suggested he intended to make a decision on whether to indict the prime minister by mid-April.

    According to the Israel Hayom report, senior Likud sources also warned this week that if a decision to indict Netanyahu is made before the elections, Mandelblit “will become the target of a merciless attack” by party officials.

    “There will be no holds barred and no effort to safeguard his honor. The entire Likud campaign will be directed against him,” the paper cited them as warning.

    Responding to the report, the Likud party put out a statement denying Netanyahu or anyone in the Likud had made the statements.

    “No one in Likud is threatening the attorney general,” a Likud statement said, alleging instead that “threats and pressures to indict Netanyahu at any cost and in any case come daily from the left and the media.”

    Initial reports after Monday’s announcement that elections would be held in April, citing shadowy unnamed legal officials, said Mandelblit would likely delay any such announcement to avoid the suggestion he was intervening in Israel’s political process. Later reports, however, quoting similar anonymous officials, said he could make a decision by February.

    After the election, the Likud sources also told Israel Hayom on Thursday, Netanyahu would condition entry into his coalition on parties promising to remain in the government even if he is indicted at a later date. The ultra-Orthodox, Jewish Home, and Yisrael Beytenu parties are reportedly seen by Likud as certain to make such a promise, while new parties headed by Benny Gantz and Orli Levy-Abecasis, Kulanu, Yesh Atid, and even the Zionist Union would all be “possible options for coalition partners” if they make similar declarations.

    Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon and Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid have both said publicly on a number of occasions that Netanyahu cannot continue to lead the country if he is charged.

    Police have recommended Netanyahu be indicted in each of the three probes against him. Of the cases in which Netanyahu is suspected of illegal activity, the one known as Case 4000 is considered by the State Prosecutor’s Office to be the most serious, according to Israeli television reports.

    In that case, Netanyahu is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

    The prosecutor’s office last week told Mandeblit the allegations constituted “a clear case of bribery,” according to Hadashot TV news. Recommendations for bribery charges were also made in the cases known as 1000 and 2000, though those were seen as less clear-cut, according to the report.

    In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues.

    Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily newspaper, the Sheldon Adelson-backed freebie Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

    Netanyahu, who has been in office since 2009, has denied wrongdoing and portrays the cases as part of a conspiracy against him encompassing the left, the media, and law enforcement officials.

     
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