Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Faces Multiple Criminal Indictments
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be indicted on multiple counts of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced on Thursday.
The charges, which will be filed after a hearing, have emerged from a two-year triple-pronged corruption investigation into Netanyahu, who is currently seeking his fifth term in office.
This would be the first time an Israeli Prime Minister has faced criminal charges while in office.
“The most serious allegations against Netanyahu involve his relationship with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israel’s telecom giant Bezeq. Police recommended an indictment in the case based on evidence collected that confidants of Netanyahu promoted regulatory changes worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Bezeq. In exchange, they believe Netanyahu used his connections with Elovitch to receive positive press coverage on Bezeq’s popular subsidiary news site, Walla. Police have said their investigation concluded that Netanyahu and Elovitch engaged in a ‘bribe-based relationship.'”
Netanyahu has maintained his innocence and has dismissed the allegations as “ridiculous.”
Allies of the PM are scrambling over whether to abandon their support ahead of April’s election, which CNN reports risks “alienating their right-wing base.”
Under Israeli law, “Netanyahu is not required to step down if he is indicted,” CNN noted. “He is only required to step down if he is convicted and that conviction is upheld through the appeals process, which could take years.”
Despite this, a trial could prove politically toxic for Netanyahu. The Israel Democracy Institute said in a statement that the PM should seriously consider how fighting these charges would affect his next term in office.
“We cannot ignore the serious potential damage to the public’s trust in the state’s institutions caused by a situation in which the government is headed by an individual charged with criminal misconduct involving abuse of power,” the organization’s statement read.
The group added that the impending criminal charges do not amount to “an inappropriate influence on the elections” because they were announced, “within a reasonable amount of time before the elections, taking into account both the public’s right to know and the desire not to intervene in the electoral process.”
Still, the possibility of indicting a sitting prime minister means entwining law enforcement in the political arena “in an unprecedented way, and on a very shaky legal foundation,” Israeli law professor Said Avi Bell said.
US President Donald Trump, whose own legal entanglements bear eerie parallels to Netanyahu’s, declined to comment on the indictment in Hanoi, Vietnam, though he did offer praise of the Israeli leader.
Netanyahu has “done a great job as prime minister,” Trump said. “He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s strong.”
Just like Trump’s remarks about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into his ties to Russia, Netanyahu has derided the slew of corruption investigations as a “witch hunt.”