Israel AG to indict Natanyahu on corruption charges
Jerusalem – Israel’s attorney general on Thursday recommended criminal charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a series of corruption cases, shaking up an already tumultuous election campaign and threatening to end the Israeli leader’s decades-long political career.
The potential charges stretch across an array of embarrassing scandals that have painted Netanyahu as a hedonistic, and sometimes petty, leader with a taste for expensive gifts and an obsession over his public image. They include allegations he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of champagne and cigars from billionaire friends, and allegedly used his influence to help a wealthy telecom magnate in exchange for favorable coverage on a popular news site.
While a final decision on charges is still months away, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s recommendations threatened to hurt Netanyahu’s standing in the heat of a tight re-election battle. Netanyahu quickly faced calls to immediately step aside while he deals with the distraction of trying to clear his name.
Appearing on national TV late Thursday, Netanyahu dismissed the allegations as an “unprecedented witch hunt” by political opponents intent on seeing him lose the April 9 election.
He called the timing of the recommendations “outrageous” and accused prosecutors of caving in to pressure from “the left.” Appearing emotional at times, he called the case a “blood libel,” said he would debunk all charges and vowed to remain prime minister for many years.
“This house of cards will collapse,” he said as he addressed voters. “Don’t let this witch hunt affect you.”
Mandelblit announced his recommendations after more than two years of intense investigations and deliberations by police, legal experts and financial regulators.
“The attorney general has reached his decision after thoroughly examining the evidence collected during the investigations,” his statement said.
Netanyahu was not formally charged. Under Israeli law, he is entitled to defend himself at a hearing before charges are officially filed. That process is expected to take many months and be completed long after the election.
Tomer Naor of the Movement for Quality Government, a watchdog group, said the hearing process could take about a year. While charges are not guaranteed, he said most of the cases, particularly the bribery case, appeared to be solid.
The recommendations nonetheless plunged Israel into uncharted legal waters, marking the first time in its history that a sitting prime minister is so close to facing criminal charges.