Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted Thursday on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust.
The charges were announced by Attorney General Avichai Mandelbilt. The indictment lists three cases—4000, 2000 and 1000—and also indicts Shaul and Iris Elovitch and Arnon Mozes.
Case 4000 addresses bribery and breach of trust. Netanyahu is accused of establishing a “reciprocal arrangement” with the Elovitch couple, shareholders of the Bezeq group, in which Bezeq improved its news coverage of Netanyahu in exchange for regulatory favors on the part of the prime minister.
Case 2000 also addresses bribery and breach of trust. Netanyahu is accused of working with Mozes, the owner of “Yedioth Ahronoth.” The indictment claims Netanyahu received improved news coverage in exchange for advancing legislation that would help bring financial benefit to Mozes and limit the circulation of “Israel Hayom,” a rival newspaper.
Case 1000 charges Netanyahu with breach of trust in connection with financial gifts received in exchange for political favors. The indictment alleges Netanyahu received approximately 700,000 NIS-worth of gifts in exchange for assisting an Australian businessman by intervening to assist him in acquisition of a US entry visa, “extending [a] tax reporting exemption period,” and promoting a “regulation concerning a merger … so that an investment … would be financially worthwhile…”
In a Thursday evening speech, Netanyahu strongly rebuked the indictments and their timing. “I think you would have to be blind not to see that something not good is happening among police, investigators, and members of the prosecutors service. Now we are witnessing an attempt at a coup against the prime minister with false claims and tendentious contaminated investigations.”
He further argued the attorney general’s indictment and previous investigations were strategically timed to interrupt Israel’s elections, stating, “It’s intended to topple a right wing government.” Netanyahu demanded the investigators be investigated, citing “contaminated investigations” and a “contaminated process.”
What the indictments mean for the prime minister’s future in government is unclear. While Israel’s Basic Law permits a sitting prime minister’s indictment, it does not address the requirements for removal pre-conviction. After indictment, the prime minister can “request the Knesset to grant him immunity from criminal indictment,” but if it is not granted, he will face a trial. Netanyahu would be the first prime minister of Israel to attempt to remain in office if he chooses to do so. If he does, Israel’s courts would enter uncharted waters with only questionably applicable legal precedent.