Attorney General slams prime ministerial immunity bill

Netanyahu and Mandelblit Photo: Danny Meron

"Such an arrangement represents a severe blow to the rule of law, to public confidence, and to equality before the law."

While the Israel Police conducts investigations into corruption allegations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the heads of Israel's law enforcement system have taken a stance against a bill being promoted by Likud members of Knesset that would bar investigations of a sitting prime minister, dubbed "the French law" after the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by presidents of France while in office.

Today it emerged that, in his opinion on the bill initiated by Likud MK David Amsalem submitted to Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit expressed vigorous opposition to it.

"A complete bar on the ability to investigate a serving prime minister, such as MK Amsalem proposes, fails to strike a balance between the various public interests and ignores the special mechanism currently stipulated in the Basic Law: The Government," Mandelblit writes, and warns that "the result to which the bill leads is extremely severe and unacceptable – there will be no power to investigate a serving prime minister, even if clear, specific evidence has come to light that gives rise to a suspicion of a serious act of bribery, for example, or other serious offences."

Mandelblit continues, "Such an arrangement has no flexibility or balance, it represents a severe blow to the imposition of the rule of law, to public confidence and to equality before the law, and is therefore an arrangement that should not be adopted."

Mandelblit notes that current law establishes a special procedure for opening an investigation into the affairs of a serving prime minister and indicting him. "The section stipulates that an investigation will be opened only with the consent of the attorney general. The existing law thus expresses a balance between competing interests – the principle of equality before the law, the rule of law, and public confidence in elected officials on the one hand, and on the other hand the need to ensure the prime minister's ability to rule free of the nuisance of unjustified criminal investigations."

Mandelblit also points out that opening an investigation only after a prime minister has left office must considerably impair it, while the prime minister himself would be under a cloud of suspicion without the means of refuting the accusations. He further remarks that a situation could arise in which people were convicted of bribing a prime minister and yet the prime minister himself would not be investigated, which would severely damage public confidence in the government.

State Attorney Shai Nitzan also made clear today that he opposed the bill. In a column entitled "Don't be afraid to investigate" on the 929 website, which promotes daily Bible study, Nitzan wrote, "There are those who think that because of the 'honor' of kings and other leaders we should not probe too much if suspicion arises against them in order not to harm the public's faith in them, and that is a complete mistake."

Amsalem responded to the attorney general and state attorney's comments today saying of Nitzan, "In the end he's just a functionary. If he has comments to make about the bill, let him come to the Knesset committee that discusses it and present his position."

Amsalem's bill would grant a serving prime minister immunity from investigation under caution and from criminal prosecution for offences other than in the areas of sex offences, violence, security, and drugs. Corruption offences such as are the subject of the current investigations involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would certainly be caught by the bill, although in its current draft it will apply only after future elections

The bill was supposed to have been discussed in the ministerial legislation committee yesterday, but Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, who chairs the committee, prevented it from being presented on the grounds that it was not ripe for discussion and that since it involved an amendment to a Basic Law, it should first be voted on by the coalition parties. Shaked is also making promotion of the bill conditional on limitation of a prime minister to two terms in office.

The bill has met with criticism from MKs from coalition and opposition parties alike. Minister of Finance Uri Ariel and MK Moti Yogev of Habayit Hayehudi said outright they would not support it. Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay said the government was busying itself with sowing division and incitement. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid called the bill "the height of repulsiveness", while Isaac Herzog, as Leader of the Opposition, spoke of "the sin of destruction of democracy."

Meanwhile, Netanyahu will be summoned in the next few days for further questioning by the Israel Police Lahav 433 unit. Among other things, Netanyahu will be confronted with testimony gathered in London a month ago from Arnon Milchan, who has been questioned under caution in "Case 1000", the affair of the expensive gifts Milchan gave Netanyahu and his wife Sara. The suspicion is that one of the ways that Milchan was repaid was through Netanyahu's promotion of the sale of shares in Channel 10, of which Milchan is part owner, to Len Blavatnik. Netanyahu denies this and claims that the relationship with Milchan was purely social.

Netanyahu will also be confronted with the version of newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes in "Case 2000", in which Netanyahu is suspected of taking a bribe and breach of trust, and Mozes is suspected of giving a bribe, in the deal the two men allegedly made whereby Mozes's "Yediot Ahronot" daily would give more favorable coverage to Netanyahu in exchange for restraint of the power of rival newspaper 'Israel Hayom".

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 23, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

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Netanyahu and Mandelblit Photo: Danny Meron
Netanyahu and Mandelblit Photo: Danny Meron
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