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