Netanyahu hit with corruption charges weeks before elections

Benjamin Netanyahu (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel will be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases — the first time a sitting prime minister will face criminal charges — the country’s attorney general announced Thursday February 28, 2019.

The actual filing of the charges will not come until after a hearing in which Netanyahu can contest the allegations. It is not known when that hearing will be scheduled, but it likely will come after Israel’s elections on April 9.

Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu’s Likud party was rejected in its request to have the Supreme Court halt the announcement until after the elections.

Netanyahu has denied all of the charges filed by the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, and called the scandal a “witch hunt” by the political left and the media.

The most serious charges — bribery and breach of trust — come in Case 4000, which alleges that Shaul Elovitch, majority shareholder of Bezeq telecommunications, received political favors benefiting the corporation in return for favorable coverage of Netanyahu on the Walla! news website owned by the company.

Netanyahu also will be charged with fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000, which alleges that he received expensive gifts from supporters in return for advancing their interests, including cigars and champagne.

Case 2000 alleges that Netanyahu conspired with Arnon Mozes, the owner of the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot, to make the newspaper cover the prime minister in a more favorable light. In return, Netanyahu allegedly promised to advance legislation aimed to hobble Yediot Acharonot’s rival tabloid Israel Hayom, which is bankrolled by the Jewish-American billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Netanyahu spoke to the nation on Thursday night about the indictments.

“In this witch hunt against me, they used anything they had. They are persecuting my wife, my son — for three years they put my family through the seven levels of hell,” he said.

Netanyahu said the left “bullied and pressured” the attorney general into announcing the charges before the election and called it a “blood libel” against him.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned from his post in 2008 during an investigation against him into multiple corruption scandals. He was later charged and convicted, ultimately serving 16 months of a 27-month sentence.

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