Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could face charges of bribery which would threaten his political career. After more than a year investigating the case, a police statement said there was enough evidence to indict the conservative leader for “bribery, fraud and breach of trust.”
Against the backdrop of Israeli flags in a televised speech at his official residence, a somber Netanyahu called the allegations baseless and vowed to complete his fourth term in office. “I am certain, I am certain, that the truth will be revealed,” he said.
Now, it will be up to Israel’s attorney general to decide whether to file charges, a process which could take months. The recommendations from police, which were made public on Tuesday night, included allegations that Netanyahu accepted bribes worth 1 million shekels (US280,000).
In a detailed statement, the police named Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood producer and Israeli citizen, and the Australian businessman, James Packer, claiming that between 2007 to 2016, they gave gifts that included champagne, cigars and jewelry to Netanyahu and his family.
“In all, the merchandise was worth more than 1 million shekels,” the statement went on to say. Any legal proceedings would likely focus on whether political favors were sought or granted. Netanyahu’s lawyers have claimed the presents were simply tokens of friendship.
A second police case also alleged “bribery, fraud and breach of trust by the Prime Minister” and by the publisher of the biggest-selling Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Arnon Mozes. The two men, police claimed, discussed ways of slowing the growth of a rival daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, “through legislation and other means.”
Netanyahu has been questioned several times by the police since the start of 2017 and has always maintained he is innocent of the charges. He also vowed to fight elections next year. “I will continue to lead Israel responsibly and faithfully for as long as you, the citizens of Israel, choose me to lead you,” the 68-year-old said.
“I am certain that at the next elections, which will be held on schedule, I will earn your trust again, with God’s help. Because I know the truth, I tell you … things will end in nothing,” he added.
Israel’s Channel 10 television network quoted a lawyer for Milchan as saying that occasional gift-giving was devoid of any business interests. Milchan is the head of the film production company, New Regency, which produced movies such as Fight Club, Gone Girl and The Revenant. It has yet to comment on the matter.
“There is no allegation of wrongdoing on Mr. Packer’s behalf,” a spokesman for the billionaire businessman, said. “The Israeli and Australian police have confirmed that he was interviewed as a witness, not a suspect.”
In the United States, the State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, cited Washington’s “very strong relationship” with Netanyahu and the Israeli government when asked about the case. “We’re certainly aware of it, but we consider it to be an internal Israeli matter,” Nauert said.
– with Reuters