Israeli PM Netanyahu denies corruption charges

PM Benjamin Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a "witch hunt". (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

Netanyahu accused the judiciary, police and others of plotting against him  with “politically motivated” allegations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defiantly vowed to hold on to power after being charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three separate cases.

Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has decided to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The cases involved are known as 1,000, 2,000 and 4,000.

PM Netanyahu is alleged to have accepted gifts from wealthy businessmen and dispensed favours to try to get more positive press coverage.

Meanwhile, he condemned the charges as a “coup” attempt against him.”I will not let the lie triumph,” Netanyahu said during a defiant speech.

“I will continue to lead the country, according to the letter of the law,” he added.

During a 15-minute tirade, Mr Netanyahu accused the judiciary, police and others of plotting against him with “politically motivated” allegations.”In this tainted process the investigators weren’t after the truth, they were after me,” he said, accusing investigators of extorting witnesses to lie.

 

Following are the cases involved:

Case 1,000

Charges: Fraud and breach of trust

This case concerns the prime minister’s relationship with two businessmen: Arnon Milchan, an Israeli Hollywood film producer, and James Packer, an Australian billionaire.

The draft indictment issued by the attorney general’s office in February alleged that Mr Netanyahu had “received various high-value benefits, including the frequent and continuous supply of expensive goods, while at the same time undertaking actions favourable to Mr Milchan”.

It said the benefits received between 2006 and 2016, mainly cigars and bottles of champagne, were worth 956,800 shekels ($264,100; £199,200).

Mr Netanyahu has insisted they were merely tokens of friendship and that he did not act inappropriately in exchange for them.

Mr Milchan and Mr Packer are not facing any charges, but like the prime minister they have previously denied any wrongdoing.

Netanyahu’s supporters protest against the indiction. Image: BBC

Case 2,000

Charges: Fraud and breach of trust

This case concerns meetings that Mr Netanyahu conducted with Arnon Mozes, a businessman and the controlling shareholder of the Yedioth Ahronoth media group, which publishes a leading Israeli newspaper.

“During these meetings, the two discussed positive changes in the press coverage by Mr Mozes’ media group regarding Mr Netanyahu, and possible action to promote a legislative bill that would have operated to reduce the financial damage created to Mr Mozes’ own newspaper by a rival newspaper, Yisrael Hayom,” the attorney general’s draft indictment said.

Mr Mandelblit has decided to charge Mr Mozes with bribery.

Both men have previously denied any wrongdoing, and said they did not intend to promote the matters discussed in their meetings.

Mr Netanyahu has said the legislation concerning Israel Hayom never passed, and that he dissolved his governing coalition in 2015 because of his opposition to it.

Demonstrators against Netanyahu. Image: BBC

Case 4,000

Charges: Bribery, fraud and breach of trust

This case concerns what the attorney general’s draft indictment said was “an illegal arrangement between Mr Netanyahu and Saul Elovitch, owner of the news and media website Walla”.

Mr Netanyahu also held the post of communications minister from 2014 to 2017. Mr Elovitch was the controlling shareholder in Israel’s biggest telecommunications company, Bezeq.

“It is alleged that Mr Elovitch acted to significantly and substantively alter press coverage published on the [Walla] website so as to favour Mr Netanyahu,” the draft indictment said. “Under this arrangement, Mr Netanyahu in return exercised his authorities of office so as to benefit Mr Elovitch and his businesses.”

The attorney general has charged Mr Elovitch and his wife, Iris, with bribery.

Mr Netanyahu, Mr Elovitch and his wife have previously denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Netanyahu has insisted he received nothing from Mr Elovitch and that Walla’s coverage of him has been negative. He has said experts supported the regulatory decisions that benefited Bezeq.

What next?

Although, it is unclear what this means for Mr Netanyahu’s future, the country’s political situation is shaky.

He is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise, and there is currently no legal barrier to him staying in office as prime minister.

It could take many months before the cases are brought before a district court. And even if convicted, Mr Netanyahu would not be required to step down until the appeals process was exhausted – something that could take years.

However, correspondents say many will question the prime minister’s ability to handle affairs of state if he is simultaneously defending himself in court.

(Geetha Srimathi Sreenivasan with agency inputs)