Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will face trial in three corruption cases after the attorney general decided to file charges on Thursday according to a statement from the Justice Ministry.
Netanyahu is the first sitting prime minister of Israel to be indicted. He has denied the allegations, saying they are politically motivated by leftwing politicians and media.
Israel has been caught up in the politics of the accusation against the prime minister since investigations began over three years ago.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has been reviewing the cases against Netanyahu after police recommended last year that the prime minister be indicted. In October Netanyahu’s attorneys tried, but failed, to persuade Mandelblit not to indict the prime minister.
There are three accusations in the indictment against Netanyahu. In what is known as Case 4000, the prime minister allegedly benefited a telecom company in exchange for favorable press coverage on the company’s popular Walla! news site. In another case called Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of trying to make a deal with a newspaper publisher to advance legislation to help the publisher’s business in exchange for positive media coverage. In this case there is no evidence that the media deal ever actually happened.
Finally, in Case 1000, the prime minister is accused of receiving in gifts including jewelry, cigars and champagne for his wife Sarah worth over 1 million NIS (about $300,000) from a number of wealthy friends.
Netanyahu has maintained his innocence on all counts throughout the investigations. Both Sarah and the prime minister do admit to receiving gifts but claim there was nothing wrong since these were given from their personal friends. Netanyahu also claims that all three cases against him is a “fiasco perpetrated by leftwing media and political plot” against him.
According to Israeli law, the prime minister is not required to step down because of the indictment. The indictment, however, could make it even more difficult for Netanyahu who has been fighting for his job after two stalemated elections this year and months of unsuccessful coalition talks.
After Netanyahu failed to form a government, just today Benny Gantz’s 28-day allowance to form a coalition with his Blue and White party ran out. The Knesset now enters a new round of negotiations. If there is still no majority after another 21 days, there will be yet another (third) election most likely this spring.
According to the Haaretz newspaper, the attorney general held off on announcing the decision to indict Netanyahu while his rival Gantz was attempting to form a government over concerns that it “would have been interpreted as interfering with the political process.”