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Benjamin Netanyahu: Israeli police recommend indicting prime minister

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Israeli police have recommended that Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on charges of bribery and breach of trust, in an embarrassing blow that has thrown the prime minister’s political future in doubt.

Following a 14-month investigation into two cases of alleged corruption, the country’s attorney general will examine the evidence and then – possibly in several months’ time – decide whether to indict.

The country has been anxiously waiting for the prosecutor’s recommendation, which local media has speculated could force the prime minister to resign.

A police statement late on Tuesday said that enough evidence had been gathered against the prime minister for committing the crimes of “bribery, fraud, and breach of trust”.

The Israeli PM is embroiled in three cases involving allegations of bribery and misconduct. He denies wrongdoing in every instance.

Case 1000 is an investigation into gifts received on a regular basis by Netanyahu and his family from two wealthy businessmen, including cigars and pink champagne.

Case 2000 is examining whether Netanyahu behaved improperly during a taped conversation with a newspaper publisher in which he appeared to try to negotiate more sympathetic coverage in return for lowering the circulation of a rival paper.

Case 3000 is an inquiry into alleged kickbacks in a deal to buy German submarines. Netanyahu is not a suspect, but he was closely involved in the deal and the case has ensnared members of his inner circle. 

Minutes after the news of the police report spread across Israeli media, Netanyahu held a press conference in Jerusalem, vehemently denying any wrongdoing and dismissing rumours that he would step down.

He said the development was the latest in a long list of endeavours to remove him from government. “All these attempts end up with nothing because I know the truth. I tell you, also this time, things will end up with nothing.

“I will continue to lead Israel responsibly and faithfully,” he said, adding he plans to run in elections that must be held by the end of next year.

Police have questioned Netanyahu several times at his official residence in Jerusalem during the past few months regarding the two cases in which he is a suspect.

Case 1000, or the so-called “gifts affair”, involves claims that he and his family received valuable gifts from international billionaires, including expensive cigars, pink champagne and jewellery for his wife. Alleged wealthy benefactors include the Hollywood producer and media magnate Arnon Milchan as well as the Australian businessman James Packer.

In a statement, police said Netanyahu had accepted gifts valued at 750,000 shekels (£150,000, $208,300) from Milchan, and 250,000 shekels (or £51,000, $70,822) from Packer. In return, Netanyahu had helped Milchan, a producer who has worked on Pretty Woman and Fight Club, on US visa matters and Israeli tax breaks.

Separately, case 2000 relates to secret talks with the publisher of a leading Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, in which Netanyahu allegedly requested positive coverage in exchange for damaging a competitor, the pro-Netanyahu freesheet Israel Hayom.

Police said both Milchan and Mozes could be charged with bribery. Neither made an immediate comment.

Having ruled for close to 12 years during four terms, the 68-year-old leader heads a delicately balanced coalition that keeps him in power.

The former prime minister and Netanyahu political rival Ehud Barak called on Netanyahu to suspend himself and for the coalition to choose a replacement.

“The depth of corruption is horrifying,” Barak said. “This does not look like nothing. This looks like bribery.”

A poll by the local Channel 10 found last summer that 66% of Israelis believed the premier should resign if indicted. Weekly demonstrations over the slow pace of the investigations have also added pressure on officers to submit a recommendation.

Last week, the investigation was plunged into controversy when the police commissioner, Inspector General Roni Alsheich, suggested the prime minister had sent private investigators to collect information against police officers investigating him.

Netanyahu’s office said the “outlandish” allegations threw a shadow over the corruption investigation. “Any honest person would ask himself how people who say such delusional things about the prime minister can objectively investigate him and honestly give unbiased recommendations,” his Facebook page said.

On Tuesday evening, the tourism minister, Yariv Levin, suggested the police were attempting to overthrow Netanyahu.

“This despicable move revealed tonight is an effort to stage a coup against the will of the voter,” Levin says.

This article titled "Benjamin Netanyahu: Israeli police recommend indicting prime minister" was written by Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem, for The Guardian on Tuesday 13 February 2018 08.42pm

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