Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

Legal woes set to haunt Netanyahu in days to come

- Agence France-presse

As Israel’s longtime premier Benjamin Netanyahu is set to lose power in the coming days, it has raised important questions about the next steps in his ongoing corruption trial.

If he loses the premiershi­p, it “wouldn’t change anything in the case itself, because he didn’t have immunity anyway”, Amir Fuchs, an analyst at the Israel Democracy Institute, said.

Under Israeli law, a sitting PM does not have automatic immunity from prosecutio­n. But he or she is not obliged to resign when charged, only when convicted and after all avenues of appeal have been exhausted.

Netanyahu was formally charged in 2019 over allegation­s he accepted improper gifts and sought to trade regulatory favours with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage.

He is also accused of accepting cigars, champagne and jewellery worth 700,000 shekels ($215,390) from wealthy personalit­ies in exchange for favours.

Netanyahu says there is no problem with receiving gifts from friends, and denies having acted inappropri­ately in return.

He has lambasted the charges as part of a witch-hunt to drive him out of office. The trial began in May 2020, with hearings repeatedly postponed in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In power from 1996 to 1999 and then again since 2009, Netanyahu has acquired a reputation as a master political operator. He has repeatedly sought to evade prosecutio­n, pushing legislatio­n to curb the power of courts and amend immunity law in his favour. He has even vied to reform Israel’s basic laws, a de-facto constituti­on.

If Netanyahu loses power, the veteran primer minister would lose the ability to force changes to those basic laws.

The primary shift in his defence strategy will be the eliminatio­n of that possibilit­y. Netanyahu faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for corruption, and three years for fraud and breach of trust. The trial could drag on for years.

As is often the case in Israel, Netanyahu could offer a plea bargain, exchanging an admission of guilt for an acquittal on more serious charges or a lighter sentence. If convicted, he could appeal to the Supreme Court. As a recourse, he could seek a presidenti­al pardon during his trial.

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