Po­lice re­port looms over Ne­tanyahu re-elec­tion bid

At­tor­ney gen­eral to de­cide if Is­raeli PM should stand trial

The Peterborough Examiner - - Canada & World - JOSEF FEDERMAN

JERUSALEM — Is­raeli po­lice on Sun­day rec­om­mended in­dict­ing Prime Min­is­ter on bribery charges, adding to a growing col­lec­tion of le­gal trou­bles that have clouded the long­time leader’s prospects for pur­su­ing re-elec­tion next year.

Ne­tanyahu de­nied the lat­est al­le­ga­tions. But his fate now lies in the hands of his at­tor­ney gen­eral, who will de­cide in the com­ing months whether the prime min­is­ter should stand trial on a host of cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions that could play a cen­tral role in next year’s elec­tion cam­paign.

In a scathing at­tack on po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors in a speech on Sun­day, Ne­tanyahu called the in­ves­ti­ga­tion a “witch hunt” that was “tainted from the start.”

“Is­rael is a law-abid­ing coun­try. And in a law-abid­ing coun­try po­lice rec­om­men­da­tions have no le­gal weight,” he told his Likud party at a Han­nukah can­dle-light­ing cer­e­mony. Most of his half-hour hol­i­day speech went to dis­miss­ing the al­le­ga­tions, and the crowd of hun­dreds of party mem­bers ral­lied be­hind him.

Sun­day’s de­ci­sion fol­lowed a lengthy in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a case in­volv­ing Ne­tanyahu’s re­la­tion­ship with Shaul Elovitch, the con­trol­ling share­holder of Is­rael’s tele­com gi­ant Bezeq.

Po­lice said they found suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence that con­fi­dants of Ne­tanyahu pro­moted reg­u­la­tory changes worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to Bezeq. In ex­change, they be­lieve Ne­tanyahu used his con­nec­tions with Elovitch to re­ceive pos­i­tive press cov­er­age on Bezeq’s pop­u­lar news site Walla.

In a state­ment, po­lice said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­cluded that Ne­tanyahu and Elovitch en­gaged in a “bribe-based re­la­tion­ship.”

Po­lice said they be­lieved there was suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to charge Ne­tanyahu and his wife Sara with ac­cept­ing bribes, fraud and breach of trust. They also rec­om­mended charges be brought against Elovitch, mem­bers of his fam­ily and mem­bers of his Bezeq man­age­ment team.

Po­lice have al­ready rec­om­mended in­dict­ing Ne­tanyahu on cor­rup­tion charges in two other cases. One in­volves ac­cept­ing gifts from bil­lion­aire friends, and the sec­ond re­volves around al­leged of­fers of ad­van­ta­geous leg­is­la­tion for a ma­jor news­pa­per in re­turn for favourable cov­er­age.

The prime min­is­ter has de­nied any wrong­do­ing.

“The po­lice rec­om­men­da­tions re­gard­ing me and my wife don’t sur­prise any­one,” Ne­tanyahu said in a state­ment. “Th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions were de­cided upon and leaked even be­fore the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan.”

The po­lice rec­om­men­da­tions do not have any im­me­di­ate im­pact on Ne­tanyahu. They go to his hand-picked at­tor­ney gen­eral, Avichai Man­del­blit, who will re­view the ma­te­rial and make the fi­nal de­ci­sion on whether to press charges.

That de­ci­sion will have a great im­pact on Ne­tanyahu’s fu­ture. Is­raeli law is un­clear about whether an in­dicted prime min­is­ter would have to step down. But at the min­i­mum, a trial would put great pres­sure on Ne­tanyahu, who has been in of­fice for nearly a decade, to step aside.

Is­rael must hold its next elec­tion by Novem­ber 2019. But Is­raeli gov­ern­ments rarely last their full terms.

Ne­tanyahu last month was nearly forced to call elec­tions af­ter a key part­ner with­drew from his coali­tion to protest a cease­fire with the Ha­mas mil­i­tant group in Gaza. Ne­tanyahu now leads a coali­tion with a ra­zor-thin 61 seat ma­jor­ity in the 120-seat par­lia­ment.

With his Likud party firmly be­hind him and his re­main­ing coali­tion part­ners re­main­ing silent, there does not seem to be any im­me­di­ate threat to the gov­ern­ment.

Man­del­blit’s of­fice has not said when he will is­sue his de­ci­sion. Most an­a­lysts ex­pect him to take sev­eral months to re­view the ma­te­rial.

Reu­ven Hazan, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at He­brew Univer­sity, said Ne­tanyahu will likely try to push for­ward elec­tions be­fore Man­del­blit de­cides whether to in­dict. Ne­tanyahu holds a solid lead in all opin­ion polls, and a vic­tory would make it more dif­fi­cult for Man­del­blit to in­dict and po­ten­tially force out a re-elected leader.

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