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28 Feb, 2019 16:01

Israeli PM Netanyahu to be indicted in corruption cases, pending hearing – Justice Ministry

Israeli PM Netanyahu to be indicted in corruption cases, pending hearing – Justice Ministry

Israel’s attorney general has prepared an indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges including bribery, fraud and breach of trust, but the PM will be given the chance to appeal before they are officially filed.

Netanyahu is currently seeking a fourth consecutive term as PM, and denies any wrongdoing. His party, Likud, has called the charges “Political persecution.” Netanyahu himself dismissed the cases against him as a "witch hunt" and told reporters that he intends to stay on as PM "for many more years."

With Israelis set to cast their votes in April, the indictment comes at a crucial time for Netanyahu. Before the charges were announced on Thursday, Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a petition by Likud to block the announcement. The party’s legal adviser, Avi Halevy, called Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s public revelation of the charges “unprecedented interference” in the upcoming election.

Whether the charges will actually be filed or not depends on the outcome of a hearing, which will more than likely take place after the April 9 election.

If the charges are filed, Netanyahu will have to answer the accusations that he took bribes from the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm. He is also accused of taking gifts from multiple businessmen in exchange for political favors, and of plotting to weaken an opposition-linked newspaper in exchange for more positive coverage from another competing outlet.

Speaking before the indictment was announced, Netanyahu said that the cases against him will "fall like a house of cards." The Labour Party leader Shelly Yachimovich responded that by fighting personal battles, Netanyahu is "unable to fight for the lives of the citizens of Israel."

On Twitter, Netanyahu's supporters railed against the indictment, with lawyer Arsen Osrtovsky calling it "an act of political interference on such scale, that has the potential to truly rupture the very foundations of our society."

Opponents disagreed, viewing it instead as justice being done. Journalist Yair Rosenberg credited Mandelblit with "holding the country's most powerful man accountable."

With the election just over a month away, a Times of Israel poll found Likud trailing the centrist Blue and White political alliance, at 19 percent to 23 percent. Taken before Thursday’s announcement, the poll found that In the event of an indictment, Likud’s support falls to 15 percent, with Blue and White’s rising to 26.

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