Israel’s attorney general has indicted Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Avichai Mandelblit said on Thursday that the prime minister would be charged in all three major corruption cases for which he was investigated. The dramatic announcement, the culmination of three years of inquiries, arrives at a fraught time for Israel’s longest-serving leader. Netanyahu is fighting for his political life after failing to secure a clear win in two elections this year. The prime minister has denied all the allegations, saying they are part of a politically orchestrated witch-hunt to oust him from office. Netanyahu has previously stated he would not resign if indicted. He is not legally required to do so unless convicted, a process that could take months or even years. The criminal case is also potentially tied to his political survival, as some of his parliamentary allies have suggested they would back laws to grant him immunity if he remains the country’s leader. Still, the seriousness of the corruption charges could damage his attempts to remain in power. Earlier this year, Israeli police recommended indictments in the three cases they were investigating, including multiple charges of fraud and breach of trust, and a bribery charge. The first case, known as case 1,000, involves allegations of receiving gifts, including cigars, champagne and jewellery, from billionaires, including the Australian casino operator James Packer, allegedly in exchange for favours. 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 to the Israeli telecoms provider Bezeq in exchange for positive stories on an online news website it owns.
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. Despite personal turmoil and a political crisis that has paralysed the country for months, the prime minister has managed to hold on. He was given a boost on Wednesday, after his political challenger, Benny Gantz, failed to form a coalition. Results from a general election in April provided no party with a clear majority, and a repeat national ballot in September gave a similar result. Netanyahu has twice failed to forge a coalition with allies and was fearful Gantz would end his historic run at the top. After both men came up short, Israel’s president asked lawmakers on Thursday to name a new candidate, although it seems unlikely any politician will be able to cobble together a majority from such a divided parliament. If that does not happen by 11 December, an unprecedented third election will be called.
These are harsh, dark days in the annals of the state of Israel, President Reuven Rivlin said, adding that the country found itself in a miserable political situation.
Since he returned to power in 2009, Netanyahu has managed to keep his party loyal, although cracks have begun to show. On Thursday, in a clear challenge to the 70-year-old leader, a senior Likud lawmaker called for a leadership primary, and put his name forward as a candidate. Gideon Sa’ar, a Netanyahu rival who has long been tipped to succeed him, said that if the country went to a third round of elections then Likud members should reconsider who led them.
If we go to new elections, it will not be reasonable to think that the prime minister will be successful in forming a government after the third elections, he said at the Jerusalem Post newspaper’s diplomatic conference in Jerusalem. I think I will be able to form a government, and I think I will be able to unite the country and the nation.
A senior cabinet minister under Netanyahu, Sa’ar is a staunch nationalist and has worked as interior and education minister under previous governments.