Sunday 15 September 2019

Police seek fresh bribery charges against Netanyahu

Denial: Benjamin Netanyahu said nothing would come of the claims. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Denial: Benjamin Netanyahu said nothing would come of the claims. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem

Israeli police say they have found enough evidence for bribery and fraud charges to be brought against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife in a third corruption case against the Israeli leader.

Authorities allege Mr Netanyahu awarded regulatory favours to Israel's leading telecommunications company, Bezeq Telecom Israel, in return for more positive coverage of him and his wife on a news website, 'Walla', owned by the company. Mr Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

If indicted, the four-term prime minister would be facing one of the greatest challenges to his political survival. Despite his dominance of Israeli politics, the newest police recommendation comes just after his right-wing coalition's majority was reduced to one seat in parliament.

The final decision on whether to indict rests with Israel's attorney-general, who is still weighing whether to charge Mr Netanyahu in the other two cases.

Those relate to allegations that Mr Netanyahu accepted gifts from businessmen and that he tried to strike a deal with a different media mogul for better coverage in return for curbs on a competing newspaper.

Most of Mr Netanyahu's coalition partners have said they will wait for a decision by the attorney-general before making any decisions about how to react to the allegations.

Some analysts have said Mr Netanyahu could call a snap vote in light of the legal proceedings against him. The next national election is not due until November 2019. But Mr Netanyahu may want to seek a renewed mandate from the people, forcing a prosecutor to think twice before indicting him.

Mr Netanyahu has said he wants his coalition to keep going until the end of its term, but politicians close to him say that given the coalition's shaky razor-thin majority, an early election is likely.

In a joint statement yesterday with the Israel Securities Authority, police said they also found sufficient evidence to charge Shaul Elovitch, a family friend of Mr Netanyahu, with bribery. At the time, Mr Elovitch was chairman and controlling shareholder of Bezeq. The authorities said there was also evidence to charge the company's then-chief executive Stella Handler with fraud.

Mr Elovitch and Ms Handler have denied wrongdoing. They were both arrested briefly earlier this year and have resigned from Bezeq.

In their statement, the authorities said: "The main suspicion is that the prime minister took bribes and acted out of a conflict of interest by intervening and making regulatory decisions that favour Shaul Elovitch and Bezeq."

The police also recommended charges of fraud and breach of trust be brought against Mr Netanyahu and his wife.

He responded by saying the allegations had no legal basis and that nothing would come of the investigation.

Irish Independent

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