Netanyahu indicted on corruption charges

The incumbent prime minister, who is accused of corruption, fraud and abuse of office in three different cases, has attacked the attorney general, calling his action an “attempted coup". A source told AsiaNews that within the ruling party many want Netanyahu out. New leaders might emerge from the turmoil.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu has been indicted on serious charges. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee, made the announcement yesterday following months of investigation.

For the first time in the country's history, an incumbent Israeli Prime Minister has been indicted for corruption, fraud and abuse of office. If convicted, Netanyahu could get several years in prison.

A few hours after the formal indictment, Netanyahu called a press conference to say he has no plans to resign, saying instead that he will fight the charges, which he describes as an “attempted coup” meant to end his political career.

Speaking to AsiaNews on condition of anonymity, a government source in Israel said that the trial will likely end Netanyahu’s hold on the country, which he has led since 2009 and in the 1990s.

“Many even in his own party say he must go because he has put his own interest before the good of the nation for far too long,” the source said.

The current political crisis – with the possibility of voters going to the polls for a third time in a year after no one was able to patch together a majority in the Knesset – is tied to the prime minister’s divisive personality.

But even if Netanyahu goes to trial, it won’t be before several months, which he will use to get Israel’s parliament to grant him parliamentary immunity.

In a cased dubbed 1000, the prime minister was investigated for fraud and abuse of office for donations received from businessmen.

In case 2000, he came under investigation along with businessman Arnon Mozes, owner of the Israel Hayom newspaper, for granting legislative favours in exchange for favourable coverage in Israel’s most widely read national newspaper.

Finally, in the most serious case, 4000, Bibi is accused of favouring the Bezeq telecommunications company when he was minister of Communications, with lucrative deals.

“It is an attempted coup based on fabrications and a tainted and biased investigative process,” said Netanyahu. “I will continue to lead the country, according to the letter of the law, with responsibility, devotion and concern for all of our futures”. He then attacked the investigators, adding that "it is time to investigate the investigators".

Reacting to Netanyahu’s statement, his main rival Benny Gantz, of the Blue White coalition, tweeted that “There is no coup in Israel, just a bid (by Netanyahu) to hang onto power.”

For Attorney General Mandelblit speaking last night, “This is a difficult and sad day”. The next step for him is to ask the Knesset to waive Netanyahu's immunity, which can take up to 30 days.

“Within the Likud party, more and more people want Netanyahu out, because he should not sacrifice party and country for his cause,” the source told AsiaNews.

“If he has any courage, he will face the charges in court. And three cases are too many. The prosecution would not have acted the way it did without significant evidence.”

The prime minister’s response against the Attorney General and the Justice Ministry is "too aggressive” and “is a betrayal of the institutions and shows a selfish attitude. The best thing he can do is resign.”

“I am convinced that the evidence that got him to trial will emerge in the courtroom.” Now, "to defend himself, Netanyahu will attack, talking about external enemies like Iran and Hezbollah to show that he is the only one who can save Israel.”

“Israeli politics are in a turmoil. And we can’t rule out that someone else might get a majority in parliament and form a government.”