Israel police recommend indicting Netanyahu in third graft probe

Police in February recommended indicting Benjamin Netanyahu in two other corruption investigations. They recommended Sara Netanyahu face charges of bribery, fraud, breach of trust and obstruction of justice. (Reuters)

Police in February recommended indicting Benjamin Netanyahu in two other corruption investigations. They recommended Sara Netanyahu face charges of bribery, fraud, breach of trust and obstruction of justice. (Reuters)

Israeli police on Sunday recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara for bribery and other offences, the third such move against the premier in recent months.

Netanyahu immediately rejected the accusations, but the cases against him have led to speculation that they could eventually force the long-serving prime minister to step down.

The head of the opposition Labour party, Avi Gabbay, renewed his call for Netanyahu to resign.

The attorney general will now decide whether to bring indictments in the case, which centres on regulatory benefits allegedly granted to telecommunications firm Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage from a related media company.

Police in February recommended indicting Netanyahu in two other corruption investigations.

In the findings announced Sunday following a long-running investigation, police said there was evidence to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud, breach of trust and unlawful acceptance.

They recommended Sara Netanyahu face charges of bribery, fraud, breach of trust and obstruction of justice.

The premier has repeatedly called the allegations against him a plot by his political enemies to force him from office.

“These recommendations were determined and leaked even before the investigations began,” he said in a statement.

“I’m sure that in this case the relevant authorities, after examining the issue, will reach the same conclusion: that there was nothing because there is nothing.”

He also noted the timing, with the recommendations coming at the end of the term in office for police commissioner Roni Alsheikh, heavily criticised by Netanyahu over the investigations.

‘Crudely and consistently’ 

The premier has been repeatedly questioned by police in the three corruption investigations.

Sunday’s recommendations involved Netanyahu, Bezeq and the firm’s largest shareholder, Shaul Elovitch.

Netanyahu is accused of seeking favourable coverage from another Elovitch company, the Walla news site, in exchange for policies that could have benefited the mogul’s business interests.

Police also recommended indicting Elovitch and his wife Iris for giving bribes, among other offences, while the statement said their son or should face charges as well as three others, including then-Bezeq CEO Stella Handler.

There was however insufficient evidence to charge Netanyahu’s son Yair, police said.

Two key figures have turned state’s witnesses in the case, including former media adviser to the Netanyahu family Nir Hefetz.

The other is Shlomo Filber, a Netanyahu ally for more than 20 years and former director general of the communications ministry.

Police said Sunday their investigation found that between 2012 and 2017, “the prime minister and his confidantes crudely and consistently, at times on a daily basis, intervened in the content published by the Walla news website.”

“(They) sought to influence the appointments of people (writers and editors) within the website, using their ties with Shaul and Iris Elovitch,” the statement said.

It said their efforts were “aimed at advancing his personal interests by publishing flattering articles and pictures, removing content critical of the prime minister and his family, and so forth.”

‘Crazy obsession’ 

The recommendations in February involved separate cases of alleged bribery, for which the attorney general is yet to decide whether to indict Netanyahu.

In one, allegations against Netanyahu include seeking a secret deal with the publisher of Israel’s top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot to ensure positive coverage in return for pushing forward a law that would have limited the circulation of a rival.

The other case involves suspicions the premier and his family received luxury gifts from wealthy individuals in exchange for financial or personal favours.

The alleged gifts — including cigars, jewellery and champagne — had an estimated value of around one million shekels (R3 719 150), police say.

Separately, police said last month there was evidence to charge a Netanyahu lawyer and others with bribery in a corruption probe related to Israel’s purchase of German submarines.

While Netanyahu was questioned as a witness and not a suspect in the submarine case, the accusations against his lawyer and others in the investigation have only added to the pressure he is facing.

Netanyahu has been prime minister for a total of more than 12 years, from 1996 to 1999 and again since 2009.

Polls suggest he would still win if elections were to be held now despite the accusations.

He could next year surpass the record set by Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion, who spent more than 13 years in office.

He is not legally required to step down if indicted—only if he is convicted with all appeals exhausted.

Gabbay of the Labour party said “Netanyahu has become a burden on Israel. He must resign.”

“A man driven by a crazy obsession of what the media will say about him can’t lead Israel,” he tweeted.

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Mike Smith

Mike Smith

Mike Smith is the AFP news editor for Israel and the Palestinian Territories and author of Boko Haram: Inside Nigeria's Unholy War.
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