Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be indicted in three corruption cases after a two-year investigation that saw his wife charged as well, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday.
Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing, will be entitled to a hearing before an indictment is formally issued, The New York Times reported. If the charges go ahead as planned, he will become the country’s first sitting prime minister to face criminal charges.
Netanyahu is expected to be indicted on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.
In one case, Netanyahu is accused of receiving lavish gifts from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer in exchange for Netanyahu pushing a tax exemption to expat Israelis that would have benefited Milchan personally. The legislation was later blocked after the Finance Ministry ruled it was against the national interest, The Times reported.
In another case, Netanyahu is accused of using his influence to damage a newspaper publisher in exchange for more favorable coverage from another newspaper ahead of an election.
In yet another case, Netanyahu is accused of helping funnel millions to a media tycoon through a controversial deal in exchange for favorable press coverage.
Netanyahu’s wife was already indicted:
Netanyahu’s wife Sara was indicted last June on charges that she illegally spent close to $100,000 in state money, largely on hiring well-known chefs to prepare private meals while covering up that their residence already had a private chef, The New York Times reported.
The indictment accused her of “exploiting her status as the wife of the prime minister,” and says she and an aide “acted jointly to fund at the cost of the public coffers ready meals from restaurants, and this while simultaneously receiving the services of a full-time cook in the residence, who was falsely presented to the office as a cleaning worker.”
Netanyahu’s political career may be over:
While the prime minister continues to deny the allegations and vowed to fight the charges, the indictment comes ahead of an election scheduled for April 9.
Netanyahu has indicated he plans to stay on, Reuters reported, adding that “some commentators say he may be seeking an election win as leverage while negotiating a plea deal with the attorney general.”
The bribery charges he faces carry a sentence up to 10 years in jail while the other charges carry up to three years in jail each.
Netanyahu has claimed he is the victim of a political “witch hunt” by the media and the left.
"The election race has turned into a real contest, after early polls showed Netanyahu’s Likud party on course for a sure victory and formation of a governing right-wing coalition," Reuters reported. "But a new alliance between his strongest opponents, former armed forces chief Benny Gantz and ex-finance minister Yair Lapid, could tip the balance in favor of a center-left bloc. The announcement of possible criminal charges could see Netanyahu’s popularity fall."