Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu 'to be charged over corruption'

Minnie Murray
March 1, 2019

Israel's attorney general announced on Thursday that he plans to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, in a move that could upset the upcoming Israeli elections in April.

Avichai Mandelblit is reported to have informed Mr Netanyahu's lawyers that he will face charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three cases, pending a final hearing.

Under Israeli law, Netanyahu is not required to step down if he is indicted.

No. Netanyahu will have a pre-trial-hearing with the attorney-general, in which his attorneys can argue for the charges to be scrapped or reduced. Netanyahu has insisted on his own innocence and has dismissed the allegations against him as a "witch hunt".

News of the deal went down badly among Netanyahu's powerful supporters in the United States, including influential lobby group AIPAC, which broke from tradition to criticise a sitting Israeli prime minister. "The left knows it can't beat us with similar achievements. There is no other explanation".

If the charges are filed, Netanyahu will have to answer to accusations that he took bribes from the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, the country's largest telecommunications firm.

Netanyahu later said that his offer to Mozes wasn't serious.

"The attorney general has reached his decision after thoroughly examining the evidence collected during the investigations", his statement said.

Avi Gabbay, leader of the oppositional Labor party, called on Netanyahu to step down.

"I can say this: that he's done a great job as prime minister. Destroying everything to save himself", he said in a statement. Testimony from three former close aides was crucial in building the case against the Israeli leader.

He said Israel could not afford to have a "part-time prime minister".

The prime minister has repeatedly insisted he would not stand aside if indicted.

With the election approaching, observers say the charges can only deepen uncertainty over Netanyahu's prospects in what is expected to be a tight race. In Israel, the details of the investigations against him and his allies are so well known that they are known by their case numbers: 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000.

In the long-running investigations, he is suspected of wrongfully accepting gifts from wealthy businessmen and dispensing favours in alleged bids for positive coverage by a newspaper and a website.

The merchandise was worth more than $280,000, according to police.

An increasingly desperate Netanyahu last week agreed a votes-for-power pact with two of Israel's most fringe far-right parties, including Jewish Power, whose members worship the radical rabbi Meir Kahane, who advocated the forcible deportation of non-Jews from Israel.

Though Netanyahu will receive a hearing prior to a formal indictment, the authority will remain with the attorney general to decide.

The attorney-general said he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust in that case.

Mr Mandelblit also filed breach of trust charges in two other cases.

If their arguments are rejected, it will be the first time in Israel's history that a sitting prime minister has faced criminal charges.

That deal again sought favourable coverage in return for pursuing legislation that would have limited the circulation of one of the papers' rivals.

Netanyahu, he country's second-longest serving premier, has previously pledged not to resign if indicted. This will also be a strong signal to the current High Court justices.

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