Is­raeli PM Ne­tanyahu in­dicted

Is­raeli PM slams fraud, bribery charges, ac­cuses pros­e­cu­tors of ‘at­tempted coup’

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Josef Federman and Aron Heller

Coun­try’s at­tor­ney gen­eral for­mally charges leader in se­ries of cor­rup­tion cases af­ter 3-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

JERUSALEM — Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu was in­dicted Thurs­day in a se­ries of cor­rup­tion cases, throw­ing Is­rael’s par­a­lyzed po­lit­i­cal sys­tem into fur­ther dis­ar­ray and threat­en­ing his 10-year grip on power. He re­jected calls to re­sign, an­grily ac­cus­ing pros­e­cu­tors of stag­ing “an at­tempted coup.”

The first-ever charges against a sit­ting Is­raeli prime min­is­ter capped a three-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion, with At­tor­ney Gen­eral Avichai Man­del­blit in­dict­ing Ne­tanyahu for fraud, breach of trust and ac­cept­ing bribes.

“A day in which the at­tor­ney gen­eral de­cides to serve an in­dict­ment against a seated prime min­is­ter for se­ri­ous crimes of cor­rupt gov­er­nance is a heavy and sad day, for the Is­raeli pub­lic and for me per­son­ally,“Man­del­blit, who was ap­pointed by Ne­tanyahu, told re­porters.

The in­dict­ment does not re­quire Ne­tanyahu, 70, to re­sign, but it weak­ens him at a time when Is­rael’s po­lit­i­cal par­ties ap­pear to be limp­ing to­ward a third elec­tion in un­der a year.

Ne­tanyahu ap­peared on na­tional TV late Thurs­day, claim­ing he was the victim of a con­spir­acy by po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors who had in­tim­i­dated key wit­nesses into tes­ti­fy­ing against him.

He de­fi­antly claimed the in­dict­ment stemmed from “false ac­cu­sa­tions” and a sys­tem­at­i­cally “tainted in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” say­ing the coun­try was wit­ness­ing an “at­tempted coup” against him.

“Po­lice and in­ves­ti­ga­tors are not above the law,” he said. “The time has come to in­ves­ti­gate the in­ves­ti­ga­tors.”

Ne­tanyahu is des­per­ate to re­main in of­fice to fight the charges. Un­der Is­raeli law, pub­lic of­fi­cials are re­quired to re­sign if charged with a crime. But that law does not ap­ply to the prime min­is­ter, who can use his of­fice as a bully pul­pit against pros­e­cu­tors and try to push par­lia­ment to grant him im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion.

As the in­ves­ti­ga­tion gained steam in re­cent months, Ne­tanyahu has re­peat­edly lashed out at what he sees as a hos­tile me­dia, po­lice and jus­tice sys­tem. Ob­servers have com­pared his tac­tics to those of his good friend, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has used sim­i­lar lan­guage to rally his base dur­ing an ac­cel­er­at­ing im­peach­ment in­quiry.

Sev­eral dozen sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of Ne­tanyahu staged ri­val demon­stra­tions out­side the prime min­is­ter’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence Thurs­day night. Po­lice kept the groups apart and there were no re­ports of vi­o­lence.

Man­del­blit re­jected ac­cu­sa­tions that his de­ci­sion was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and said he had acted solely out of pro­fes­sional con­sid­er­a­tions. He crit­i­cized the of­ten-heated pres­sure cam­paigns by Ne­tanyahu’s sup­port­ers and foes to sway his de­ci­sion, which came af­ter months of de­lib­er­a­tions. Both sides had staged demon­stra­tions out­side or near his home.

“This is not a mat­ter of pol­i­tics,” he said. “This is an obli­ga­tion placed on us, the peo­ple of law en­force­ment, and upon me per­son­ally as the one at its head.”

Ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment, Ne­tanyahu ac­cepted hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars of Cham­pagne and cigars from bil­lion­aire friends, of­fered to trade fa­vors with a news­pa­per pub­lisher and used his in­flu­ence to help a wealthy tele­com mag­nate in ex­change for fa­vor­able cov­er­age on a pop­u­lar news site.

Ne­tanyahu be­comes Is­rael’s first sit­ting prime min­is­ter to be charged with a crime. His pre­de­ces­sor, Ehud Olmert, was forced to re­sign a decade ago ahead of a cor­rup­tion in­dict­ment that later sent him to prison for 16 months.

The de­ci­sion comes at a tu­mul­tuous time for the coun­try. Af­ter an in­con­clu­sive elec­tion in Septem­ber, both Ne­tanyahu and for­mer mil­i­tary chief Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, have failed to form a ma­jor­ity coali­tion in par­lia­ment. It’s the first time in the na­tion’s his­tory that that has hap­pened.

The coun­try on Thurs­day en­tered an un­prece­dented 21-day pe­riod in which any mem­ber of par­lia­ment can try to rally a 61-mem­ber ma­jor­ity to be­come prime min­is­ter. If that fails, new elec­tions would be trig­gered, set­ting the stage for a three-month cam­paign fol­lowed by weeks or months of post­elec­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The only ap­par­ent way out of the cri­sis would be a unity gov­ern­ment be­tween the par­ties, which to­gether con­trol a par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity. But af­ter Thurs­day’s in­dict­ment, that pos­si­bil­ity ap­peared even more re­mote.

Blue and White lead­ers said it was im­pos­si­ble for Ne­tanyahu to rule un­der in­dict­ment and warned that there was a risk his per­sonal con­sid­er­a­tions could in­flu­ence his de­ci­sions.

“A prime min­is­ter up to his neck in cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions has no pub­lic or moral man­date to make fate­ful de­ci­sions for the state of Is­rael,” the party said in a state­ment.


An Is­raeli group voices its sup­port for Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu on Thurs­day out­side his Jerusalem res­i­dence.


At­tor­ney Gen­eral Avichai Man­del­blit’s in­dict­ments capped a three-year probe.

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