Is­raeli po­lice: Ne­tanyahu should be charged in a pair of cor­rup­tion cases

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front Page -

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

Mr. Ne­tanyahu an­grily re­jected the ac­cu­sa­tions, which in­cluded ac­cept­ing nearly $300,000 in gifts from a pair of 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 year­long 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 fa­vor­able 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 dragon 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. Net anyahu, 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 Wed­nes­day 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 at­tor­ney gen­eral re­views the case.

She said the big­gest sur­prise was that Yair Lapid, leaderof the op­po­si­tion Yesh Atid party, had been a wit­ness. David Am­salem, an­other Ne­tanyahu con­fi­dant, calledMr. Lapid a “snitch.”

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

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.

It said Mr. Ne­tanyahu had ac­cepted gifts val­ued at 750,000 shekels ($214,000) from Mr. Milchan, and 250,000 shekels ($71,000) from Mr. Packer. The gifts from Mr. Milchan re­port­edly in­cluded ex­pen­sive cigars and cham­pagne.

Po­lice said that in re­turn, Mr. Ne­tanyahu had op­er­ated on Mr. Milchan’s be­half on U.S. visa mat­ters, leg­is­lated a tax break and con­nected him with an In­dian busi­ness­man. It said he also helped Mr. Milchan, an Is­raeli pro­ducer whose cred­its in­clude “Pretty Woman,” ‘’12 Years a Slave” and “JFK,” in the Is­raeli me­dia mar­ket.

In the se­cond case, known as “File 2000,” Mr. Ne­tanyahu re­port­edly was recorded ask­ing Ar non Mozes, the pub­lisher of the Ye­diot Ahronot daily, for pos­i­tive cov­er­age in ex­change for pro­mot­ing leg­is­la­tion that would weaken a free news­pa­per that had cut into Ye­diot’s busi­ness.

Po­lice said there was suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to charge both Mr. Milchan and Mr. Mozes with bribery.

Ronen Zvulun, pool via AP

In this Feb. 11, 2018, file photo, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu chairs the weekly cab­i­net meet­ing at the prime min­is­ter's of­fice in Jerusalem.

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