Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu faces bribery, fraud charges

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu faces bribery, fraud charges

February 28, 2019

Israel’s attorney general announced Thursday that he intends to indict Benjamin Netanyahu in a series of corruption allegations – the first time a sitting prime minister in the Jewish state faces criminal charges.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informed Netanyahu’s lawyers that he intends to indict the prime minister on charges including bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different cases.

The actual filing will depend on the outcome of a hearing in which Netanyahu, who is seeking a fourth term, can try to persuade the AG not to indict him. The hearing is expected to take place after the April 9 elections.

A defiant Netanyahu – who has been prime minister since 2009 and served a previous term between 1996 and 1999 – has strenuously denied any wrongdoing and called the allegations a media-orchestrated witch hunt aimed at kicking him from office.

He remains deadlocked in the polls, 40 days before Israelis go to vote.

Mandelblit announcement came shortly after Netanyahu’s Likud party petitioned the High Court of Justice to have it delayed until after the elections.

Avi Halevy, the ruling party’s chief legal adviser, said that allowing Mandelblit to publicize his decision so close to the elections would be an “unprecedented interference” in the democratic process, according to the Times of Israel.

But the court shot down the petition.

The Justice Ministry said there was no legal cause for a delay, saying that the attorney general had always planned to announce his decision “as soon as he had completed the work on the cases.”

The Likud party released a pre-emptive video Thursday in which it slammed the AG’s expected announcement as “an attempted political hit job.”

The clip repeated many of Netanyahu’s talking points against the corruption probes, calling them a “house of cards” that will collapse during the hearing process.

Despite opposition calls for Netanyahu to step down, Likud and his other nationalist coalition partners have supported him — all but ruling out sitting in a government led by his primary opponent, Benny Gantz, the retired chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Mandelblit’s decision could either galvanize Netanyahu’s hard-line supporters who consider him as a victim of an overzealous prosecution or turn more moderate backers against him because of persistent accusations of corruption and hedonism.

While Israeli prime ministers are not required by law to resign if charged, the prospect of a prime minister facing a criminal trial while running the country would be unchartered territory.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert served time in the slammer for corruption, but had already resigned by the time he was charged.

President Trump, with whom Netanyahu has forged a close relationship, offered the Israeli leader a vote of confidence in the hours leading up to the announcement.

“I just think he’s been a great prime minister and I don’t know about his difficulty but you tell me something people have been hearing about, but I don’t know about that,” Trump said in response to a question in Hanoi, where he was holding a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“I can say this: that he’s done a great job as prime minister. He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s strong,” he said.

Netanyahu rushed back to Israel on Wednesday from a diplomatic mission to Moscow, where he met President Vladimir Putin, to prepare for his expected rebuttal to the charges.

Netanyahu is suspect

ed of bribery in three cases, one of which involves gifts from wealthy business associates — with the other two involving potential quid-pro-quo deals for regulatory favors in exchange for positive media coverage.

In the so-called “Case 1000,” he is accused of accepting bribes in connection with gifts worth $300,000 from business executives.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu allegedly agreed to promote a bill to restrict the circulation of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily’s main competitor, Israel Hayom, in exchange for favorable coverage.

And in Case 4000, he allegedly influenced regulatory decisions that netted hundreds of millions of dollars for the Bezeq telecom company in exchange for positive coverage on its subsidiary news site Walla.

The most serious allegations involve his “bribe-based relationship” with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the telecom giant.

Police recommended an indictment based on evidence collected that Netanyahu’s confidants promoted regulatory changes worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Bezeq.

Officials say they believe there is enough evidence to charge Netanyahu and his wife Sara with accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.

They also recommended charges be brought against Elovitch, members of his family and members of his Bezeq management team.

Former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has come to Netanyahu’s defense, publishing an open letter to Mandelblit in which he warned that an indictment against the prime minister ahead of elections would undermine the democratic process.

“I’m very worried for freedom of the press and freedom of government in Israel if they start indicting people for trying to get good coverage from the media,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.

“I don’t know of any other country that has criminalized trying to get good coverage and make that a basis of bribery or any other corruption investigation.”

With Post Wires

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