Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was formally charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust on Thursday, making him the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office and sending Israel’s already stalemated political system into further disarray.
Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday, November 21, issued a 63-page indictment against the country’s longest-serving prime minister after almost three years of investigation.
The Attorney-General disclosed his decision at a news conference at 7.30pm local time, where he said he ‘decided to file charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for offences of receiving a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust.’
“I made this decision with a heavy heart but with a whole heart and a sense of commitment to the rule of law. Law enforcement is not a discretionary manner. It is an obligation that is imposed on us. It is my duty to the citizens of Israel to ensure that they live in a country where no one is above the law and that suspicions of corruption are thoroughly investigated.”
The prime minister and his wife, Sara, are accused of accepting more than $260,000 worth of luxury goods in exchange for political favors and that Netanyahu interceded with regulators and lawmakers on behalf of two media companies in exchange for positive news stories.
The most serious charges in the indictment were connected to so-called ‘Case 4000,’ in which Netanyahu is accused of passing regulations that gave his friend, telecom magnate Shaul Elovitch, benefits worth over $250 million to his company, Bezeq.
In return, Bezeq’s news site, Walla, published favourable articles about Netanyahu and his family.
It also accused Netanyahu of concealing the relationship by providing ‘partial and misleading information’ about his connections with Elovitch. Two close aides to Netanyahu turned state’s witness and testified against him in the case.
The indictment also said that Netanyahu’s gifts of champagne and cigars from billionaires Arnon Milchan and James Packer ‘turned into a sort of supply line.’ It estimated the value of the gifts at nearly $200,000.
The indictment said Netanyahu assisted the Israeli Milchan, a Hollywood mogul, in extending his US visa. It was not immediately clear what, if anything, Packer received in return.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in the corruption cases, saying he is a victim of a political witch-hunt.
He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum 3-year term for fraud and breach of trust.