Netanyahu set to be indicted on three charges

Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has notified Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he had decided to charge him, pending a hearing, with bribe-taking, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, dubbed 1,000, 2,000 and 4,000.

The attorney general presented a detailed document of over 50 pages, which was reviewed by TV7, listing the suspicions against the Israeli leader between October of 2011 until December of 2016.

The allegations point to suspicions of receiving illicit gifts from wealthy donors in case 1,000*, suspicions on negotiating favorable coverage by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth in return for promoting legislation against a rival publisher in case 2,000**, and another similar allegation in which Netanyahu is suspected of receiving favorable coverage on the Israeli website Walla! News – in return for regulatory benefits to the site’s owners, telecommunications giant Bezeq, in case 4,000***.

In response, the Prime Minister accused the country’s Attorney General of yielding to significant pressure by Netanyahu’s left-wing rivals, referring to his decision as “political persecution” that aimed at toppling him, and his right-wing government.

In a press conference from his residence in Jerusalem, Netanyahu stressed that he does not intend to capitulate – to what he termed as – “an unprecedented witch-hunt,” reiterating his intension of serving Israel as Prime Minister for many more years to come. In his words, “I intend to serve you and the country as prime minister for many more years. Don’t believe all the spin. I intend to serve you as prime minister for many more years. But it’s up to you. It’s not up to the civil servants. It’s not up to the television studios. It’s not up to the pundits and journalists, it’s only up to you.”

Netanyahu’s main rival, however, former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz – who chairs the White and Blue political-alliance with Former Finance Minister Yair Lapid – urged the Israeli Prime Minister to “show responsibility and resign.” General Gantz stressed that while he “wholeheartedly believes that Netanyahu loves the state of Israel,” the Attorney General’s decision to publish a draft-inditement demands the Prime Minister’s immediate resignation.

The former IDF Chief further underlined that he expects Netanyahu to make the responsible decision of waging his legal battles as a private (citizen), and “If and when (Netanyahu) proves (his) innocence, (he) will be able to return to the public arena with (his) head held high.” Furthermore, Gantz emphasized that “given the publication of the attorney-general’s recommendations,” he will not join any coalition in which Netanyahu maintains a seat.

In contrast to Gantz’s decision, the majority of Netanyahu’s coalition partners issued statements of support, reiterating that they will recommend Netanyahu, to President Reuven Rivlin, as the person who should form the government after the April 9th Parliamentary elections. That said, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, did not comment on the matter. Contrary to Netanyahu’s other coalition partners, Kahlon stressed on many occasions that he would not recommend Netanyahu for the position of Prime Minister, if the Attorney General would decide to move forward on an indictment.

A senior official from Netanyahu’s ruling-Likud faction questioned the timing of the attorney-general’s decision. In a conversation with TV7, the official noted that “the attorney general’s draft-inditement, just 40 days before the national parliamentary elections, raises concrete questions on the timing of his decision.” The official, who asked to remain anonymous, pointed to the fact that only after the elections the Prime Minister would be allowed to defend himself in a hearing – “a decision that is not only unfair for obvious reasons, it also raises questions on whether the decision was made to harm Netanyahu’s chances for re-election.”

Following is a summary of the allegations for which Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit believes there is enough evidence to bring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to trial, pending a hearing:

*CASE 1000: Felony charges of Fraud and Breach of Trust, which are applicable if public servants compromise their ability to act in the public interest.

Netanyahu and his wife Sara are suspected of accepting an estimated $195,000 value of gifts in exchange for favors from Israeli Arnon Milchan, a prominent Hollywood producer; and $75,000 of presents from Australian billionaire businessman James Packer, who was introduced to Netanyahu by Milchan. The items include expensive champagne, cigars and jewelry. In his recommendation for indictment, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit wrote that Netanyahu was guilty of a “serious conflict of interest” between “obligations to his benefactors and those of the public,” which at time required him to “leverage his position as prime minister.” According to Mandelblit, Netanyahu’s alleged ‘abuse of position significantly harmed the propriety of the public administration,’ as well as public trust and integrity of public servants. Three specific incidents in which the Attorney General noted that Netanyahu acted to advance Milchan’s interests included help for the producer’s acquisition of a long-term US visa, qualification for Israeli tax exemptions and the securing of a major interest in the now-defunct Channel 2 television network.

**CASE 2000: Felony charges of Fraud and Breach of Trust.

Prosecutors have reportedly obtained copies of recorded conversations between Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, the owner of Israel’s best-selling daily “Yedioth Ahronoth” newspaper. The Prime Minister is alleged to sought more positive media coverage, in exchange for efforts to limit circulation of the rival “Israel Hayom” publication – including the proposed passing of legislation.  Mandelblit accused the prime minister of “severely damaging public trust” by carrying out a “detailed and expansive negotiation” with Mozes.

***CASE 4000: Felony charges of Bribery, Fraud, Breach of Trust, Fraudulent acceptance of benefits.

In further pursuit of favorable media coverage, Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions to benefit “Walla” news site owner Shaul Elovitch, who is also the controlling shareholder and former chariman of the Bezeq telecom giant. The Attorney General wrote that Netanyahu’s abuse “power and authority” either “directly or indirectly” provided Elovitch with $496,866,996.00. Mandelblit alleged that prior to and during his tenure as Communications Minister (2014-2017), the premier “intervened in a blatant and ongoing manner, and sometimes even daily, in the content published by the Walla News website, and also sought to influence the appointment of senior officials [editors and reporters] via their contacts with Shaul and [his wife] Iris Elovitch.” Positive coverage about Netanyahu was said to have been particularly prevalent during the 2013 and 2015 elections, while disproportionately negative concerning his political rivals. According to the Attorney General, Netanyahu deliberately accepted “a bribe as a public servant in exchange for actions related to [his] position.”

-If convicted of bribery, the 69 year-old, four-term premier could face up to 10 years in jail; while fraud and breach of trust charges carry maximum terms of 3 years.