Attorney general announces charges as crisis deepens for longest-serving leader
Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem
Thu 21 Nov 2019
Benjamin Netanyahu describes corruption indictment as ‘attempted coup’ – video
Israel’s attorney general has indicted Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, in a damning blow to the prime minister as he fights for his political survival.
Avichai Mandelblit charged the 70-year-old leader on Thursday in all three major corruption cases for which he was investigated. It was the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister has been charged with a crime.
In the 63-page indictment, Netanyahu was accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of pounds in luxury gifts from billionaire friends and for trading valuable favours with Israeli media and telecoms moguls for positive news coverage.
“A day in which the attorney general decides to serve an indictment against a seated prime minister for serious crimes of corrupt governance is a heavy and sad day, for the Israeli public and for me personally,” Mandelblit told reporters.
With no clear route to continue his premiership, Netanyahu’s fate has been thrown into limbo as he faces multiple explosive court cases that could drag on for years, all while under intense political pressure.
The dramatic move, the culmination of three years of inquiries, arrives at a desperately fraught time for Israel’s longest-serving leader. Netanyahu is scrambling to remain in power after failing to secure a clear win in two elections this year.
The prime minister has previously denied all the allegations, saying they are part of a politically orchestrated “witch-hunt” to oust him from office.
Responding to the indictment, a pale-faced Netanyahu said in a televised speech that the “false” and “politically motivated” charges amounted to an “attempted coup” against him. “The public has lost trust in the legal system,” he said.
Mandelblit, however, had earlier swatted aside those claims. “This is not a matter of right or left. This is not a matter of politics,” he said.
Netanyahu has previously stated he would not resign if indicted, and is not legally required to do so unless convicted.
The criminal case is also potentially tied to him remaining the head of the government, as some of his parliamentary allies have suggested they would back laws to grant him immunity if he can hold his seat.
Still, the seriousness of the corruption charges could significantly damage his attempts to stay in public office. Earlier this year, Israeli police recommended indictments in the three cases. Netanyahu could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum three-year term for fraud and breach of trust.
The first case, known as case 1,000, involves allegations of receiving gifts such as cigars, champagne and jewellery, from billionaires, including the Hollywood businessman Arnon Milchan and Australian casino operator James Packer, allegedly in exchange for favours.
The indictment estimated the value of the gifts at about £150,000. In return, Netanyahu helped Milchan, an Israeli who produced the film Pretty Woman, to extend his US visa, according to the charges. It was not clear what Packer received for his presents, if anything.
In case 2,000, Netanyahu is accused of colluding with the country’s top-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, to hurt its competition in exchange for favourable coverage.
In the third and most serious case, case 4,000, Netanyahu is accused of offering incentives worth close to £200m to the Israeli telecoms provider Bezeq in exchange for positive stories on an online news website it owns. Charges raised against Netanyahu in case 4,000 were the only ones to involve the more damning indictment of bribery.
As well as Netanyahu, two powerful media figures in Israel tied up in the investigations, Shaul Elovich, the former owner of Bezeq, and his wife, Iris, as well as, Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, were also indicted for bribery. Both Elovich and Mozes deny any wrongdoing.
In a separate case not involving Netanyahu, his wife, Sara, was convicted in June of illegally misusing thousands of pounds of public funds for lavish meals, despite having an in-house cook provided by the state.
The 60-year-old child psychologist has been a controversial partner throughout Netanyahu’s political career, and has also been accused by employees of mistreatment.
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