Ne­tanyahu faces cor­rup­tion charges

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

JERUSALEM: Is­raeli po­lice on Tues­day rec­om­mended that Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu be in­dicted on bribery and breach of trust charges in two cor­rup­tion cases, deal­ing an em­bar­rass­ing blow to the em­bat­tled prime min­is­ter that is likely to fuel calls for him to re­sign.

Mr Ne­tanyahu an­grily re­jected the ac­cu­sa­tions, which in­cluded ac­cept­ing nearly $300,000 in gifts from two bil­lion­aires. He ac­cused po­lice of be­ing on a witch hunt and vowed to re­main in of­fice and even seek re-elec­tion.

“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,” an ashen-faced Mr Ne­tanyahu said in a tele­vised ad­dress. “I am sure that 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 rec­om­men­da­tions marked a dra­matic end­ing to a more than year-long in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions that Mr Ne­tanyahu ac­cepted gifts from Hol­ly­wood mogul Arnon Milchan and Aus­tralian bil­lion­aire James Packer, and sus­pi­cions that he of­fered to give pref­er­en­tial treat­ment to a news­pa­per pub­lisher in ex­change for favourable cov­er­age.

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

In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the po­lice an­nounce­ment, re­ac­tions quickly fell along par­ti­san lines.

For­mer prime min­is­ter Ehud Barak, a bit­ter ri­val of Mr Ne­tanyahu, called on him to sus­pend him­self and for the coali­tion to ap­point a re­place­ment on yes­ter­day morn­ing.

“The depth of cor­rup­tion is hor­ri­fy­ing,” Mr Barak said. “This does not look like noth­ing. This looks like bribery.”

But key mem­bers of Mr 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 at­tor­ney­gen­eral 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 Mr Lapid a “snitch.”

Mr Lapid later is­sued a state­ment call­ing on Mr Ne­tanyahu to re­sign.

“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,” Mr Lapid said.

In a state­ment, po­lice said their in­ves­ti­ga­tion found suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to in­dict Mr Ne­tanyahu in the first case, known as File 1000, for ac­cept­ing bribes, fraud and breach of trust.

AFP

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and the chief of Is­raeli po­lice, Com­mis­sioner Roni Al­sheikh.

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