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Netanyahu says police report on fraud claims 'like Swiss cheese'

Benjamin Netanyahu is caught up in three cases of alleged bribery and misconduct.
Benjamin Netanyahu is caught up in three cases of alleged bribery and misconduct. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/AP

Benjamin Netanyahu has described a police report on allegations of bribery and fraud against him as “full of holes, like Swiss cheese”, as he fights for his political life.

Following a 14-month investigation into two cases of alleged corruption, police recommended on Tuesday evening that the Israeli prime minister be indicted on charges of bribery and breach of trust.

Israel’s attorney general will examine the evidence and then – possibly in several months’ time – decide whether to issue an indictment.

Speaking in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Netanyahu said the police report was misleading and “contrary to the truth and logic”.

“I want to reassure you, the coalition is stable,” he said of his government in response to rumours that political allies might abandon him. He promised to serve his full term until the end of 2019 and dismissed talk of an early election.

Israeli politicians have scrambled to try to exploit the police announcement, which many believe could deal a fatal blow to his latest four-term tenure whether in court, at the polls or because of political backlash.

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. 

“The Netanyahu era is over,” said the leader of the opposition Labour party, Avi Gabby. “It is the duty of every decent public figure to strengthen the police and the law and to act to end the path of the government headed by Netanyahu.”

The centre-left opposition alliance said the police’s findings were “clear, tough and decisive”. “It’s a difficult evening when Israeli police recommend prosecuting a prime minister in Israel with bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” a statement by Zionist Union statement said.

Yariv Levin, the tourism minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party, said the police recommendations amounted to a coup. All eyes were on the finance minister, Moshe Kahlon, and the education minister, Naftali Bennet, who are seen as the pillars of Netanyahu’s fragile coalition. They are influential figures among his rightwing base and will be assessing whether the fallout from the case might prove too toxic for their loyalty.

Kahlon wrote a simple message on Facebook saying that only the attorney general could make the decision to indict. Bennet said Netanyahu was a man of honest motives who should stay on as premier, but that taking gifts in “large sums over a long period of time” did not meet the standard prime ministers should set.

A poll by the local Channel 10 last summer found that 66% of Israelis believed the premier should resign if indicted. If he can hang on until elections are due late next year, he will become Israel’s longest-serving leader.

In a late-night press conference on Tuesday where he took no questions, Netanyahu tersely rejected the police allegations, which stem from two cases in which he is a suspect.

Case 1000, 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. Alleged wealthy benefactors include the Hollywood producer and media magnate Arnon Milchan and the Australian businessman James Packer.

Police said in a statement that Netanyahu had accepted gifts valued at 750,000 shekels (£150,000) from Milchan, and 250,000 shekels from Packer. In return, Netanyahu had helped Milchan, who has worked on Pretty Woman and Fight Club, with US visa matters and Israeli tax breaks.

Case 2000 relates to secret talks with Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the leading Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, in which the prime minister 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. Packer is not a suspect.

The police recommendation does not make it certain that Netanyahu will be indicted and the decision by the attorney general could take months. Nor would the prime minister be under any legal obligation to resign.

Police have questioned him several times at his official residence in Jerusalem.

This article titled "Netanyahu says police report on fraud claims 'like Swiss cheese'" was written by Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem, for The Guardian on Wednesday 14 February 2018 10.54am

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