Nathan Schmidt / Bethlehem
In a statement released late Tuesday night, Israeli police have recommended Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on charges of fraud and corruption after months of investigation.
Netanyahu, who has held office since 2009, stands accused of accepting gifts in exchange for preferential treatment and political favours as well as allegations he attempted to bribe Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth for favourable coverage.
The conclusion of the months long investigation has determined that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Netanyahu on both charges which were investigated separately, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000 respectively.
The police recommendations will now be sent to the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit who will decided whether to proceed with prosecution.
Mandelbit has been placed in an unenviable and widely criticised position. As a former ‘Netanyahu loyalist’, Mandelbit must now decide whether to indict the PM. Mandelbit once served as Netanyahu’s Cabinet secretary.
Addressing the police recommendations on television on Tuesday, Netanyahu dismissed the charges as ‘baseless’, stating;
‘Over the years, I have been the subject of at least 15 inquiries and investigations. Some have ended with thunderous police recommendations like those of tonight. All of those attempts resulted in nothing, and this time again they will come to nothing.’
Netanyahu faces pressure from within the ruling coalition. Approval for Netanyahu’s indictment has grown in magnitude within the Knesset over recent months, originally stemming mostly from the left-wing opposition parties but has since gained traction within the ruling right-wing coalition as the inevitably of his indictment grew.
Popular sentiment towards Netanyahu within the ‘right’ was widely reported in December when members of the right, including supports of Netanyahu’s Likud party, joined ‘leftist’ protestors in what was then the latest in a series of anti-corruption marches aimed at Netanyahu.
I24 News reported at the time that protestors were proclaiming the march the ‘March of Shame 2017’ and were heard chanting ‘the people demand a legal state’ and ‘not leftist, not rightist but honest.’
Contrastingly, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said in August that should the Prime Minister be indicted, he should not be obliged to step down. Legally, he is under no obligation to do so.
Since the release of the police findings, the coalition has mostly rallied behind Netanyahu, for the time being.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon addressed the police findings Tuesday night, stating that he wished to remain in office and called on ‘everyone – right and left – to stop attacks on the police and on the rule of law, and let the systems operate without pressure from right or left, and to function in an orderly, professional, and prudent manner.’
Regardless of whether Netanyahu is indicted or agrees to step down, the right-wing coalition would likely remain in power should key players such as FM Kahlin remain.
Case 1000 pertains to allegations Netanyahu received over $280,000 in gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian business tycoon James Packer, among other important political and social figures.
Israel’s Channel 10 reported that Packer had told investigators in December that he had given gifts to Netanyahu and his wife.
Sara Netanyahu, wife to Benjamin Netanyahu, stands accused of similar charges. In 2016, Mrs Netanyahu was questioned by Israeli police on allegations of misuse of power, including accepting gifts and falsifying official documents.
In September, AG Mandelbit stated he intended to bring charges against Mrs Netanyahu over the misuse of public funds.
Case 2000 concerns allegations of ‘backdoor’ dealings between the PM and Arnon Mozes, publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth. Netanyahu allegedly received favourable coverage in exchange for reigning in a rival news publication.
The police statement also recommends that Mozes should face charges.