Photographs by AP/Ronen Zvulun
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018.
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
JERUSALEM -- Israeli police on Tuesday recommended that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on charges of bribery and breach of trust in a pair of corruption cases.
Netanyahu rejected the accusations, which included accepting nearly $300,000 in gifts from two of billionaires. He accused police of being on a witch hunt, vowed to remain in office and even seek re-election.
"I will continue to lead the state of Israel responsibly and loyally as long as you, the citizens of Israel, choose me to lead you," Netanyahu said in a televised address. "I am sure that the truth will come to light. And I am sure that also in the next election that will take place on time I will win your trust again with God's help."
The recommendations capped a monthslong investigation into allegations that Netanyahu accepted gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer, and suspicions that Netanyahu offered to give preferential treatment to a newspaper publisher in exchange for favorable coverage.
The recommendations now go to Attorney General Avihai Mendelblit, who will review the material before deciding whether to file charges. Netanyahu can remain in office during that process, which could drag on for months.
In the immediate aftermath of the police announcement, reactions quickly fell along partisan lines.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a bitter rival of Netanyahu, called on him to suspend himself and for the coalition to appoint a replacement this morning.
"The depth of corruption is horrifying," Barak said. "This does not look like nothing. This looks like bribery."
But key members of Netanyahu's Likud Party rallied behind him. Cabinet Minister Miri Regev said she was "not excited" by the police recommendations and urged patience while the attorney general reviews the case.
She said the biggest surprise was that Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party, had been a witness. David Amsalem, another Netanyahu confidant, called Lapid a "snitch."
Lapid later issued a statement calling on Netanyahu to resign.
"Someone with such serious accusations against them, many of which he does not even deny, cannot continue to serve as prime minister with responsibility for the security and well-being of Israel's citizens," Lapid said.
In a statement, police said there was sufficient evidence to indict Netanyahu in the first case, known as File 1000, for accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.
It said Netanyahu had accepted gifts valued at $214,000 from Milchan, and $71,000 from Packer. The gifts from Milchan reportedly included expensive cigars and champagne.
Police said that in return, Netanyahu had operated on Milchan's behalf on U.S. visa matters, legislating a tax break and connecting him with an Indian businessman. It said he also helped Milchan, an Israeli producer whose credits include Pretty Woman, 12 Years a Slave and JFK, in the Israeli media market.
In the second case, known as "File 2000," Netanyahu reportedly was recorded asking Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Yediot Ahronot daily, for positive coverage in exchange for reining in a free pro-Netanyahu daily that had cut into Yediot's business.
Police said there was sufficient evidence to charge both Milchan and Mozes with bribery. There was no immediate comment from either man.
In his TV address, Netanyahu said his entire three-decade political career, which included serving as Israel's ambassador to the U.N., a stint as prime minister in the 1990s and a series of Cabinet posts, was meant only to serve the Israeli public.
He acknowledged aiding Milchan with his visa issues, but said Milchan had done much for Israel and noted that the late Shimon Peres had also been close with Milchan.
He also said that over the years he had taken decisions that hurt Milchan's business interests in Israel.
Netanyahu, who has been prime minister for nine consecutive years, and his family have become embroiled in a series of scandals in recent months.
Recordings recently emerged of his wife, Sara, screaming at an aide, while separate recordings emerged of his eldest son, Yair, on a drunken night out at a series of Tel Aviv strip clubs while traveling around in a taxpayer-funded government car with a government-funded bodyguard.
Netanyahu has said the scandals are all the work of the media out to get him.
Information for this article was contributed by Ian Deitch and Aron Heller of The Associated Press.
A Section on 02/14/2018
NWADG.com for only
$0.99 for the first month.