Israeli police advise new bribery charges against Netanyahu

Bloomberg – Police recommended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stand trial for bribery in a third corruption case, delivering another blow to the embattled leader as his government barely clings to power.

Israeli investigators said they had amassed more evidence that the prime minister traded influence for favors, this time in a case involving the country’s largest telecommunications carrier. Netanyahu, who just two weeks ago brought his coalition from the brink of collapse after a junior partner bolted, denied any wrongdoing.

Investigators recommended that Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, be indicted on bribery charges, too, but the prime minister said the couple would be cleared. “I am sure that in this case, too, the relevant authorities, after examining things, will arrive at the same conclusion — there was nothing because there is nothing,” he said.

The police recommendations are non-binding. The decision whether to indict falls to Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit, who still hasn’t ruled on the two other corruption cases in which police have already said Netanyahu should be indicted.

Talk of early elections has become a staple of Israel’s political landscape in recent months, but polls have shown the cascade of allegations against Netanyahu wouldn’t cost him a fifth term. The prime minister has argued that he is the victim of a left-wing and media conspiracy to topple his conservative government.

Netanyahu, 69, has also benefited politically from a strong alliance with U.S. President Donald Trump, who shares his views on Middle East peacemaking and the need to contain Iran. The White House is trying to build a coalition of Middle Eastern leaders to deter Iran, to that end encouraging the warming of relations between Israel and Arab states that outwardly shun it and sidelining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last month, Netanyahu paid a surprise visit to the Gulf state of Oman to meet Sultan Qaboos Bin Said.

Regulatory Benefits

According to a police statement, Netanyahu — at times also functioning as communications minister — tipped regulatory policy to benefit Bezeq Israeli Telecommunication Corp. In exchange, Bezeq’s news subsidiary, Walla, gave the prime minister sympathetic treatment, police allege.

Police recommended that Bezeq’s former chairman, Shaul Elovitch, who was forced to step down earlier this year, stand trial for giving bribes. Elovitch’s attorney, Jacques Chen, told the Ynet website that his client denied wrongdoing.

Earlier this year, investigators also recommended that Netanyahu be tried for allegedly taking nearly $300,000 worth of gifts including expensive cigars and champagne from wealthy friends including Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. They also said he should be indicted for influence-peddling after discussing a deal with powerful newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to push through legislation that would hurt a rival daily in exchange for good coverage.

Netanyahu has also said he’s innocent in those cases.