‘Will con­tinue to lead Is­rael if peo­ple choose me’

Ne­tanyahu vows to stay in of­fice de­spite bribery & fraud charges

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Is­rael’s prime min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu has vowed to re­main in of­fice and on Wed­nes­day in­sisted his gov­ern­ment is ‘sta­ble’ af­ter po­lice rec­om­mended he should be in­dicted on bribery and breach of trust charges.

The rec­om­men­da­tions came af­ter Ne­tanyahu al­legedly ac­cepted gifts from Hol­ly­wood mogul Arnon Milchan and Aus­tralian bil­lion­aire James Packer.

There were also sus­pi­cions that he of­fered to give pref­er­en­tial treat­ment to a news­pa­per pub­lisher in ex­change for favourable cov­er­age.

And the fresh de­vel­op­ment will deal an em­bar­rass­ing blow to the em­bat­tled prime min­is­ter and is likely to fuel calls for him to re­sign.

Fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment late on Tues­day, Ne­tanyahu an­grily re­jected the ac­cu­sa­tions, which in­cluded ac­cept­ing nearly $300,000 (`1.9 crore) in gifts from the two bil­lion­aires.

Parker is one of sev­eral wealthy busi­ness­men Is­raeli po­lice ques­tioned about ex­pen­sive gifts al­legedly given to Ne­tanyahu and his fam­ily.

These items in­cluded cham­pagne, ho­tel rooms, meals and cigars. There is no sug­ges­tion of any wrong­do­ing by Packer.

Packer struck up a close friend­ship with Ne­tanyahu in 2014 af­ter the pair were in­tro­duced by mu­tual friend, Arnon Milchan, a ma­jor Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer. The Aus­tralian bil­lion­aire later bought a wa­ter­front home next door to the Is­raeli PM’s pri­vate beach­front home in Cae­sarea and was a spe­cial guest at speeches de­liv­ered by Ne­tanyahu to the US Congress and UN Gen­eral Assem­bly in New York in 2015.

Ne­tanyahu later ac­cused po­lice of be­ing on a witch hunt and vowed to re­main in of­fice and even seek re-elec­tion.

Ne­tanyahu said: “I will con­tinue to lead the state of Is­rael re­spon­si­bly and loy­ally as long as you, the cit­i­zens of Is­rael, choose me to lead you.”

“I am sure the truth will come to light. And I am sure that also in the next elec­tion that will take place on time I will win your trust again, with God’s help.”

The po­lice rec­om­men­da­tions now go to At­tor­ney Gen­eral Avi­hai Men­del­blit, who will re­view the ma­te­rial be­fore de­cid­ing whether to file charges.

Ne­tanyahu is al­lowed to re­main in of­fice dur­ing that process, which is ex­pected to drag on for months.

But with a cloud hang­ing over his head, he could soon find him­self fac­ing calls to step aside.

Dur­ing sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances a decade ago, Ne­tanyahu, as op­po­si­tion leader, urged then-prime min­is­ter Ehud Olmert to re­sign dur­ing a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, say­ing a leader ‘sunk up to his neck in in­ter­ro­ga­tions’ could not gov­ern prop­erly.

Olmert re­signed from of­fice af­ter po­lice rec­om­mended he be in­dicted for graft. He was freed from prison in July af­ter be­ing granted pa­role from a 27-month sen­tence.

In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the po­lice an­nounce­ment, re­ac­tions quickly fell along par­ti­san lines. For­mer prime min­is­ter Ehud Barak, a bit­ter ri­val of Ne­tanyahu, called on him to sus­pend him­self and for the coali­tion to ap­point a re­place­ment on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

He said: “The depth of cor­rup­tion is hor­ri­fy­ing. This does not look like noth­ing. This looks like bribery.”

But key mem­bers of Ne­tanyahu’s Likud Party ral­lied be­hind him. Cabi­net min­is­ter Miri Regev said she was ‘not ex­cited’ by the po­lice rec­om­men­da­tions and urged pa­tience while the at­tor­ney gen­eral re­views the case.

She said the big­gest sur­prise was that Yair Lapid, leader of the op­po­si­tion Yesh Atid party, had been a wit­ness. David Am­salem, an­other Ne­tanyahu con­fi­dant, called Lapid a ‘snitch’.

Lapid later is­sued a state­ment call­ing on Ne­tanyahu to re­sign. He said: “Some­one with such se­ri­ous ac­cu­sa­tions against them, many of which he does not even deny, can­not con­tinue to serve as prime min­is­ter with re­spon­si­bil­ity for the se­cu­rity and well-be­ing of Is­rael’s cit­i­zens.”

Ne­tanyahu posted a re­sponse on Face­book late last Wed­nes­day in which he lashed out at the po­lice com­mis­sioner, call­ing sug­ges­tions that he sent pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors on such a mis­sion ‘ridicu­lous’. His post said: “It is shock­ing to dis­cover that the com­mis­sioner has re­peated the mis­taken and ridicu­lous sug­ges­tion that Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu sent pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors af­ter the po­lice who are in­ves­ti­gat­ing him.’

He also re­ferred to claims that sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions against the head of the unit in­ves­ti­gat­ing Ne­tanyahu were an at­tempt to smear him be­cause of the graft probe.

Is­raeli PM lashed out at the po­lice Po­lice claim Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu re­ceived one lakh dol­lars in gifts from Hol­ly­wood mogul Arnon Milchan

Is­raeli po­lice have rec­om­mended the coun­try’s Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu be charged with cor­rup­tion.

Ne­tanyahu is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated over al­le­ga­tions that he re­ceived ex­pen­sive gifts from Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer Arnon Milchan (left) and Aus­tralian bil­lion­aire James Packer (right).

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