Israeli PM Netanyahu indicted on corruption charges
Israel’s attorney-general indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges on Thursday, raising more uncertainty over who will ultimately lead a country mired in political chaos after two inconclusive elections this year.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announced the decision in a statement. The charges included bribery, breach of trust, and fraud.
Netanyahu has vehemently denied all the allegations, calling the corruption investigation a “witch-hunt” and alleging it has been motivated by his enemies’ desire to force him from office. He will make a statement at 20:30 GMT.
Israeli law does not require Netanyahu to step down from the post of prime minister if indicted. The entire process of an indictment and trial could take two years.
As prime minister, he would only be forced to resign from the post if he is eventually convicted, where he could face up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine for bribery charges alone, while fraud and breach of trust carry a prison sentence of up to three years.
What are the charges?
In February, Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu on charges of fraud, breach of trust, and bribery, following up on police recommendations.The investigations were listed as Cases 4000, 1000, and 2000.
The allegations against Netanyahu range from receiving gifts worth thousands of dollars to a deal to change regulatory frameworks in favour of a media group in exchange for favourable press coverage.
Case 1000 alleges Netanyahu and his wife wrongfully received gifts from Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood producer and Israeli citizen, as well as from Australian billionaire James Packer, in return for political favours.
The gifts included champagne and cigars, according to reports.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu is suspected to have struck a deal with the owner of Israel’s daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth to receive favourable media coverage in return for legislation that would slow the growth of competing newspaper Israel Hayom.Of the investigations against Netanyahu, Case 4,000 is seen as the most serious.
He is alleged to have negotiated with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israeli telecommunications giant Bezeq, to get positive coverage on his Walla! news site in exchange for policies benefitting Bezeq.
The attorney-general’s decision is expected to have a wide-reaching impact not just on the embattled leader but on Israeli politics in general, as the country has been without a government for nearly a year because of political infighting.
Neither Netanyahu nor his centrist rival Benny Gantz have been able to form a coalition government following deadlocked elections in September, with the country edging closer to a third election within 12 months.
An indictment might permanently damage 70-year-old Netanyahu’s political career and cause allies to break away from him, whereas a reprieve would likely give him a new lease of life.
The right-winger Netanyahu, who has been in power since 2009, is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and dominates the country’s political scene.