Netanyahu officially indicted for fraud

Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has decided to officially indict prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for fraud, bribery and breach of trust.

In the beginning of October, Netanyahu’s defense team received the opportunity to present the Israeli prime minister’s position to the state prosecution since he was being accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, labeled ‘case 1000’, case ‘2000’ and case ‘4000’. The prosecution, lead by Mandelblit himself, has been working on these cases for the last couple of years.

The prime minister has always downplayed the accusations as a witch hunt against him and the Likud party. However, the Attorney General painted a rather unflattering picture of Netanyahu today. According to Mandelblit, the pm has incessantly enriched himself by accepting certain goods and securing preferential treatment for certain media. The defense presented by Netanyahu’s team of lawyers did not impress the Attorney General.

Details of the accusations 

Case 1000 centers around suspicions that Netanyahu received hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of gifts in the form of boxes of champagne, cigars and other such luxury goods from Hollywood tycoon Arnon Milchan. According to the draft indictment Netanyahu “acted while manning public roles in favor of Milchan in numerous personal and business affairs, while he was in a grave conflict of interests between the common good and his personal commitment to Milchan.”

According to Netanyahu it’s permissible to receive gifts from friends. Another line of defense is that, apparently, his wife Sara may have asked Milchan personally to arrange the presents without his knowledge.

Case 2000 treats the Prime Minister’s involvement in promoting legislation that would disadvantage the free daily newspaper Hayom, in the interest of their main competitor Yedioth Ahronoth and its news site Ynet, lead by publisher Arnon Mozes. Yedioth Ahronoth is Israel’s best-selling newspaper and the question at hand is if Netanyahu’s actions constitute a conflict of interests, since Mozes allegedly promised Netanyahu favourable coverage in return for the legislation.

Netanyahu’s rather salient and wavering reply is that both Mozes and he were only trying to manipulate one another and neither of them had the intention of following through with the proposal.

Case 4000, considered the most painful of the three, handles the suspicions that Netanyahu acted in the interest of former Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch that helped him to profit by more than a billion shekels. In return for his services, as with case 2000, Netanyahu was promised favourable coverage on the Walla website, which is under Elovitch’s direction. This case was first brought to light by Haaretz in 2015, when Netanyahu was Minister of Communications as well as Prime Minister. This is the only case of the three in which he faces charges of bribery, as well as fraud and breach of trust.

Netanyahu’s defense in this case is that there isn’t any clear evidence of his involvement in Bezeq’s profits and the subsequent media coverage. Also, he claims that the Walla coverage wasn’t beneficial to him at all and, according to him, no one has ever been accused of bribery for receiving good press.

Political mess

For now, Netanyahu won’t have to step down. This will only be necessary if he’s found guilty on the charges in question and no further means of appeal remain at his disposition. According to Israeli media, it is the first time in the history of the country that an acting prime minister is being prosecuted. Netanyahu has been prime minister for the last 13 years, making him the longest serving pm of Israel.

This case only makes Israel’s internal political situation more difficult. Two rounds of elections have already been held during which Netanyahu appeared unable to form a government. And since Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party, has not succeeded in bringing this task to a good end either, a third round of elections seems to be on the horizon.