Attorney General of Israel Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday formally charged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in separate cases, The Jerusalem Post reported. The charges come amid inconclusive general elections held in April and September.
However, in a 15-minute speech, Netanyahu claimed the charges were false and politically motivated, and called them an “attempt to stage a coup against the prime minister”, AFP reported. “The object of the investigations was to oust the right wing from government,” he said, claiming it was time for an “investigation of the investigators”.
Netanyahu is accused of dispensing favours and accepting gifts from wealthy business people and attempting to get more positive media coverage. He has repeatedly rejected the accusations and called it part of a witch-hunt against him.
The indictment could impact negotiations to form a new government, which are being held to avoid a third general election in the country this year. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, had earlier said he would not step down even if indicted. However, analysts say the cases are now closely tied to his political survival.
In a separate case, Netanyahu’s wife Sara Netanyahu was convicted of misusing state funds for lavish meals despite having an in-house cook.
The three cases
One case, known as Case 4000, involves Israel’s largest telecommunications company, the Bezeq Group. The investigation followed suspicions that Netanyahu during his term as the communications minister from 2014 to 2017 intervened with regulators to help the Bezeq Group, which is controlled by businessman Shaul Elovitch. Elovitch, in return, ordered Bezeq Group’s Walla news to provide favourable coverage for Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu. Investigators have questioned Netanyahu several times in connection with this case, partly based on the testimony of Nir Hefetz, a former adviser to the prime minister who turned witness.
There are two other cases of corruption against him. In Case 1000, Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, while Case 2000 involves an alleged quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes.