Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be indicted on corruption charges


Photo Courtesy of The Israel Times

By Sunya Hassan || News Editor

After nearly a decade in power, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now facing a series of corruption charges against him.

On Thursday, February 28, Israel’s attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, announced that his office plans to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu on corruption charges after a two-year investigation. Prior to recent events, Israeli police had recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in three different cases.

They claimed that the prime minister had a “bribery relationship” with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the Israeli telecommunications company, Bezeq. Police stated that Netanyahu advanced regulations that favored Elovitch, concerning the merger of two telecom companies that earned Elovitch millions of dollars. In return (from 2012-2017), Elovitch allowed Netanyahu to access and dictate the content on his company’s news website ‘Walla! News.’ In an interview with Israeli investigative TV program ‘HaMakor,’ Avi Alkalai, former chief editor of the news site, stated that “there was an attempt to paint all that had to do with the prime minister’s household in a positive light and not negative.” Netanyahu and his associates would place flattering photos and articles of themselves, as well as remove any articles that were critical of the prime minister and his family. Purportedly, they also had a hand in the hiring of reporters and editors.

Netanyahu is also suspected of wrongfully accepting over $282,000 worth of gifts in the form of cigars, champagne and jewelry from Israeli expatriate and Hollywood producer Aaron Milchan, as well as Australian businessman James Packer, who is more famously recognized as the ex-fiancé of singer Mariah Carey. They reputedly sent these gifts to Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem and in exchange, the prime minister promoted legislation that benefited Milchan, though it ended up being blocked by the Finance Ministry.

In the third case, Netanyahu is accused of colluding with the Israel’s top-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, to hurt its competition in exchange for favourable coverage. He offered to press competing newspaper, Israel Hayom, and cut down its free distribution. In return, Yediot Ahronot would treat Netanyahu more kindly. Though the deal was never completed, investigators say.

Netanyahu has denied all accusations, deeming them as part of a witch-hunt orchestrated by the press and police. He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum 3-year term for fraud and breach of trust.

Mandelblit’s decision to indict Netanyahu is announced just six weeks prior to the Israeli general election and could severely damage Netanyahu’s chances of being reelected for a fourth term. Anxious about the impact the allegations would have on the upcoming vote, the prime minister’s right-wing Likud party petitioned the high court on Thursday in a last-minute attempt to block the announcement, but it was promptly rejected. Under Israeli law, Netanyahu can also defend himself in a pre-trial hearing before the charges are formally filed in court, and possibly persuade the attorney general to have them dropped. Though it is currently unclear whether that process with begin before the election on April 9. Either way, it will most likely take a few months. In the meantime though, Israeli law states that a prime minister is not legally required to resign if he is indicted and Netanyahu has indicated that does not intend to step down if he has to stand trial.

Sophomore Sunya Hassan is the News Editor her email is shassan@fandm.ed

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