Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has agreed to withhold evidence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption until after the election following a request by the latter's legal team.
According to a statement by Israel's Ministry of Justice yesterday, Mandelblit has "decided to accept the request of the prime minister's attorneys to delay the delivery of investigation materials in the cases related to the prime minister until after the election date [on 9 April]," Haaretz reported.
The statement added that Netanyahu had made the request "out of concern that evidentiary material could leak to the media and potentially affect public sentiment" ahead of the election.
Netanyahu will face a court hearing no later than 10 July, during which he could be charged with several counts of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. If convicted of bribery, Netanyahu could face up to ten years in prison, while fraud and breach of trust carry sentences of up to three years.
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That Mandelblit has agreed to Netanyahu's request will likely be seen as a victory for the incumbent prime minister. Netanyahu has met repeatedly with Mandelblit over the past few months in a bid to prevent him from ruling on the corruption charges levelled against him during the election period, fearing any comments could prejudice voters against him and the Likud party.
For his part, Mandelblit has largely rejected Netanyahu's demands, announcing in February that he intends to indict the prime minister after a several-year-long investigation. Mandelblit's announcement caused a sharp drop in the polls for Likud, with the party falling behind its main rival, the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance, for the first time.
These polling figures have since re-balanced, with Netanyahu using the announcement as yet more evidence of a "conspiracy" against him by "the left", an all-encompassing term for the media, the judiciary and anyone critical of the prime minister. That Netanyahu's legal team requested the evidence be delayed "out of concern that evidentiary material could leak to the media" will be seen as yet more evidence of this strategy.
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Netanyahu has long been embroiled in three separate corruption cases, dubbed Case 1000, Case 2000 and Case 4000 respectively. In Case 1000, Netanyahu stands accused of accepting lavish gifts from two influential businessmen in return for favourable legislation and personal favours.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu is being investigated for promising Arnon Mozes – the owner of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aronoth – that he would curtail the circulation of Israel Hayom, Mozes' main competitor publication, in return for favourable coverage of him and his policies.
In Case 4000 – sometimes known as the Bezeq case – Netanyahu is accused of providing regulatory benefits to Shaul Elovitch, the owner of telecom giant Bezeq, in return for favourable coverage on Elovitch's Walla news site. Due to the similarity of the cases and the overlap of key personalities and witnesses, Mandelblit had tied the three cases together, refusing to give a verdict on one case while the other was still being investigated.
Though opposition figures have called for Netanyahu to resign in light of the attorney general's recommendations, Israeli law does not require him to step down from the premiership unless he is formally charged and sentenced. For his part, Netanyahu has previously joked that he is "ready to leave" his position as prime minister but has "no one to leave the keys with".
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