Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu To Be Indicted On Corruption Charges

By Merrit Kennedy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long denied the allegations, saying they are politically motivated.

Ronen Zvulun/AP

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Ronen Zvulun/AP

Israel’s attorney general has decided to file charges against longtime Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three corruption cases, according to a statement Thursday from the country’s Justice Ministry. Israel has been mired in political uncertainty for months as it awaited the decision.

Netanyahu is Israel’s first sitting prime minister to be indicted. He has long denied the allegations, saying they are politically motivated.

It’s a massive blow for Netanyahu, who has been fighting to keep his job after two inconclusive elections this year. Both he and his chief rival, Benny Gantz, failed to form coalition governments, and now the parliament is engaged in a new round of political haggling about whether anyone else has the support to form a government. There also could be new elections this spring.

Gantz had refused to form a unity government with Netanyahu’s Likud party with the threat of indictment hanging over the prime minister. It remains to be seen whether Likud will change its leadership in light of Thursday’s decision.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said in February that he was preparing to indict Netanyahu on corruption charges.

Mandelblit was considering charges in three main corruption cases, after police recommended last year that Netanyahu be indicted. In an October hearing, Netanyahu’s legal team had the opportunity to try to persuade Mandelblit not to formally indict the prime minister.

The most serious case involves allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In what has become known as Case 4000, the prime minister allegedly promoted regulation that benefited a telecom company, in exchange for favorable press coverage on the company’s news site. As NPR’s Daniel Estrin reported, Netanyahu and his associates were allegedly able to influence content on Walla! News for about five years, “placing flattering photos and articles and removing articles that were critical of Netanyahu and his family — while also getting involved in the hiring of editors and reporters.”

In that case, two senior aides testified after they cut deals with prosecutors. Walla journalists have stated that they were told to stay away from negative coverage of the prime minister.

Another case – dubbed Case 2000 — involves a media deal that never actually happened. Netanyahu is accused of breach of trust and fraud for trying to make a deal with a newspaper publisher to advance legislation to help the publisher’s business, in exchange for positive media coverage.

Finally, in Case 1000, the prime minister is accused of receiving about $300,000 in illegal gifts, including jewelry, cigars and champagne from a Hollywood producer and an Australian billionaire.

The prime minister is not legally required to step down if indicted. However, “the public may question whether the decision for him to remain in office is a reasonable one under those circumstances,” as experts from The Israel Democracy Institute noted earlier this year.

The analysts add: “This question will mostly likely be decided upon by the Supreme Court if Netanyahu is reelected, indicted and then refuses to resign.” A sitting prime minister who is also a suspect “could gravely harm the public’s trust in the rule of law.”

According to the Haaretz newspaper, the attorney general held off on announcing the decision while Netanyahu’s rival Gantz was attempting to form a government, over concerns that it “would have been interpreted as interfering with the political process.”

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