In Brief

Benjamin Netanyahu indicted for corruption

Long-awaited decision likely to harm Israeli prime minister’s chances in upcoming election

Benjamin Netanyahu is to be indicted on corruption charges by Israel’s attorney general, the first time in history a prime minister will have been charged while still in office.

Israeli media reports Avichai Mandelblit is set to charge the embattled leader in three corruption cases, dubbed 1000, 2000 and 4000, pending a hearing, “dealing a damning blow to the premier ahead of crucial, closely watched general elections”, says The Independent.

The charges are likely to include bribery, fraud and breach of trust relating to alleged gifts accepted from wealthy businessmen and the dispensing of favours in return for more positive press coverage.

A 16-month investigation by the police which concluded last year recommended Netanyahu be charged with corruption “but it’s still pretty bad timing for the prime minister” says Vox.

“You have hurt the image of public service and public faith in it,” Mendelblit wrote to Netanyahu in his decision reported by Haaretz. “You acted in a conflict of interests, you abused your authority while taking into account other considerations that relate to your personal interests and the interests of your family. You corrupted public servants working under you.”

Netanyahu has dismissed the accusations as “ridiculous” and a “left-wing” witch hunt to topple him and in a last-minute move his ruling Likud party submitted a petition to the High Court to delay the decision.

In the end the long-awaited announcement went ahead, which “so close to April's general election marks a dramatic moment in Israeli politics and is a major blow to Netanyahu as he seeks a fifth term in office”, says CNN.

“Netanyahu's opponents will likely look to exploit a heightened sense of damage to the prime minister's reputation, while his coalition partners must now decide whether to support a leader who looks set to be indicted, or withdraw their support and risk alienating their shared right-wing voter base,” says the news network.

Netanyahu is facing a powerful centrist alliance, and “with a potential trial hanging above his head, it is unclear if his right-wing coalition partners will stick by his side through the polls” says the Independent.

A poll by the Times of Israel found that the decision to indict him could lose Netanyahu four seats in the election and scupper his chances of forming a coalition government.

The prime minister will have an opportunity to make his case against the indictments at a final hearing, which is likely to take place after the 8 April election.

“If his arguments are rejected, it will be the first time in Israel's history that a sitting prime minister has faced criminal charges” says the BBC.

Opposition parties have said there is no way Netanyahu should carry on as prime minister if that happens.

Others have suggested he should resign before.

Legal experts in Israel say it could take up to a year for a hearing process into the charges to end and an additional two years for a court case to be heard.

NBC News says “while Israeli prime ministers are not required by law to resign if charged, the prospect of a prime minister standing trial while simultaneously running the country would be unchartered territory”.

“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” says Yonah Jeremy Bob in the Jerusalem Post.

“There are no clear answers, except that the likelihood of Netanyahu remaining prime minister past early 2020 are dramatically reduced as of Thursday’s blockbuster decision,” he concludes.

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