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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Israeli police recommend indicting Netanyahu on bribery charges

Police said they have established sufficient evidence to charge the leader

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem November 25, 2018. Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem November 25, 2018. Reuters

Israeli police have recommended that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on bribery charges in a corruption case involving the country’s telecoms giant.

Police said they have established grounds to charge Mr Netanyahu and his wife for accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.

The case in question involves Bezeq telecoms company. Mr Netanyahu is accused of boosting regulation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the company in return for favourable coverage on the Bezeq-owned website, Walla News.

Mr Netanyahu denied the allegations in an immediate statement released after the recommendation.

“These recommendations were determined and leaked even before the investigations began,” he said.

“I'm sure that in this case the relevant authorities, after examining the issue, will reach the same conclusion: that there was nothing because there is nothing.”

The recommendation is the third made against the Israeli leader in recent months. In February, police recommended indicting him in two other corruption investigations. But this case, known as Case 4000, is the most serious of the three.

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Police say the investigation, which included the testimony of 60 witnesses, revealed that Mr Netanyahu and Bezeq boss Shaul Elovitch engaged in a “bribe-based relationship”.

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelbilt, a former Netanyahu ally, will now decide whether to bring charges against the prime minister.

Opposition Israeli parties quickly called for Mr Netanyahu to step down or be removed from office.

“The most serious bribery case yet leaves no room for doubt: a prime minister who is accused of the most serious offense for a public servant in the Israeli rule book cannot keep serving one minute longer,” Tamar Zandberg, head of the dovish opposition Meretz party, said.

“The prime minister has no moral mandate to keep his seat and must resign today. Israel must go to elections.”

Two key figures have turned state's witnesses in the case, including former media adviser to the Netanyahu family Nir Hefetz.

The other is Shlomo Filber, a Netanyahu ally for more than 20 years and former director general of the communications ministry.

Police said Sunday their investigation found that between 2012 and 2017, "the prime minister and his confidantes crudely and consistently, at times on a daily basis, intervened in the content published by the Walla news website."

"(They) sought to influence the appointments of people (writers and editors) within the website, using their ties with Shaul and Iris Elovitch," the police statement said.

In one of the other cases against Mr Netanyahu, allegations include his seeking of a secret deal with the publisher of Israel's top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot to ensure positive coverage in return for pushing forward a law that would have limited the circulation of a rival.

The other case involves suspicions that the prime minister and his family received luxury gifts from wealthy individuals in exchange for financial or personal favours.

The gifts allegedly included pricey cigars, jewellery and champagne.

The total value of the gifts received is estimated at around one million shekels ($270,000), according to police.