Prime minister to be indicted for 'bribery, fraud'

Rabbi Meir Kahane at the Knesset

Israel's attorney general has indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, breach of trust and fraud, in a move described by his allies as "political persecution".

The decision to indict Netanyahu on corruption charges could have significant effects on the prime minister's bid to be re-elected in the forthcoming elections on 9 April.

In the statement from his official residence that lasted about 20 minutes, Netanyahu's voice seemed to break with emotion as he spoke of his family, which he said had been smeared by the investigations. He is up for election again in April. For example, the prime minister pushed for a law, which the media labeled the "Milchan law", that cut taxes for Israelis returning to their homeland after living overseas.

The High Court can cite past judicial decisions that forced out Arye Deri (in his first stretch as a minister), former minister Shlomo Benizri and several mayors to support a decision to demand a resignation, even if resignation isn't explicitly required from a statute.

The most explosive case, in which Netanyahu faces a bribery charge, alleges the prime minister promoted regulatory changes to benefit the country's largest telecommunication company, Bezeq Israeli Telecommunications, in exchange for sympathetic media coverage from its online news website.

This case relates to Netanyahu's dealings with Arnon Mozes, publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, one of Israel's most widely circulated newspapers. While others have hedged their bets and fudged their answers, Kahlon has been clear that Netanyahu could not continue as PM if he had been indicted, and that Kahlon would not serve under him if he had.

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Right now, Netanyahu is vowing he will never resign, but starting from today - and certainly following a final indictment - the country enters a new reality.

Mandelblit did not accept the police position that recommended indicting Netanyahu on bribery in this case, limiting the case to breach of trust only.

"I just think he's been a great prime minister and I don't know about his difficulty but you tell me something people have been hearing about, but I don't know about that", he said in response to a question in Hanoi, where he was holding a summit with the leader of North Korea.

The campaign now appears to be morphing into a referendum on Netanyahu as he seeks to become the longest-serving premier in Israeli history. "They exerted extraordinary pressure on the attorney general to issue an indictment even though there is nothing, in order to influence the elections and to crown a left-wing government". Now we wait through months of pre-indictment hearings where Netanyahu's lawyers will try to convince Mandelblit to drop the case.

President Donald Trump, with whom Netanyahu has forged a close connection, offered the Israeli leader a boost earlier Thursday. Netanyahu has denied all accusations, dismissing them as part of a witch-hunt orchestrated by the press. "He's tough, he's smart, he's strong".

Mandelblit, in his decision, took pains to note that he's only considering pressing charges and hasn't yet made a final decision, pending Netanyahu's legal hearing.

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