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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Israel passes disputed law muzzling police on high-profile probes

Opposition says the bill was designed to soften scrutiny of corruption probes against Netanyahu

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset member David Bitan attending a gathering for Likud party members and activists at the Tel Aviv Convention Centre in August in a mass show of support for the PM who is facing a string of corruption investigations. Jack Guez / AFP
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset member David Bitan attending a gathering for Likud party members and activists at the Tel Aviv Convention Centre in August in a mass show of support for the PM who is facing a string of corruption investigations. Jack Guez / AFP

Israel's parliament ratified on Thursday a law barring police investigators from going public with their findings, in what opposition lawmakers saw as a bid to soften scrutiny of corruption probes against prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The so-called Recommendations Bill, approved in the final reading by a vote of 59-to-54, prevents police from announcing whether they have found enough evidence for an indictment before prosecutors decide whether or not to press such charges.

Netanyahu is a suspect in two cases. In one, he is alleged to have meddled in the media industry. The other concerns gifts he received from wealthy businessmen. He denies any wrongdoing.

Opposition lawmakers have said that the bill, tabled by Netanyahu's rightist Likud party, was designed to dampen public anger over the investigations, which has fuelled weekly demonstrations in Tel Aviv and calls for the premier's ouster.

Netanyahu defended the bill on December 3 as "intended to prevent publication of police recommendations which would leave a cloud over innocent people, something that happens every day”. In 60 per cent of cases where police recommend criminal charges, prosecutors decided not to indict, Netanyahu noted.

But the prime minister also called for the bill to be amended so it did not apply to the criminal investigations against him.

The final draft stipulated that the law would not be in effect regarding investigations that predate its ratification.

That has done little to mollify the opposition.

"This law came about only because of the investigations against Netanyahu," Avi Gabbay, head of the centre-left Zionist Union party, told Israel's Army Radio.

"We don't know what investigations might be conducted in the future (against him)."

Israeli media had reported that police could go public with recommendations to indict Netanyahu as soon as early January, and a December 23 TV poll found that 60 per cent to 63 per cent of the public would want him to resign over such recommendations.

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