Feb. 28 (UPI) — Israel’s top prosecutor said Thursday he intends to indict Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges, a move that can shift the balance of power in the country’s April 9 election.
The Israeli leader faces one count of bribery and two counts of fraud and breach of trust from three separate investigations — known as cases 1000, 2000 and 4000.
Netanyahu faces bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in case 4000, which accuse him of firing Communications Ministry director Avi Berger and hiring his ex-campaign manager Shlomo Filber. Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illegal gifts from wealthy donors in case 1000 and the prime minister is suspected of trying to negotiate favorable coverage in an Israeli news outlet in case 2000.
Filber has turned state’s witness against Netanyahu — and he and wife Sara are charged with directing the owner of the Walla news outlet, Shaul Elovitch, to produce favorable coverage.
Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced the indictment Thursday and could make his final ruling within the next 12 months. If Netanyahu is found guilty, the High Court of Justice could force him to resign.
Netanyahu denies the charges, saying the news site didn’t always give him positive coverage, or if it did, his actions are not illegal. He also denies charges he approved a merger between Bezeq and Yes, saying it was approved by the bureaucracy.
Netanyahu met Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow but his office issued a statement denouncing accusations of impropriety.
“The accusations of bribery are ridiculous,” it said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu never received anything from nor gave anything to Elovitch. The coverage on Walla! was negative and intensified ahead of the elections. Every decision regarding Bezeq was approved by the responsible regulators and the prime minister acted flawlessly, as determined by the justice ministry in an official document.”
Netanayhu will speak to the media at 8 p.m. local time Thursday.
Prosecutors had recommended bribery charges in all three cases but Mandelblit opted for lessor charges fraud and breach of trust charges in Case 1000 and 2000.
The leader’s Likud Party filed a motion with the Israeli Supreme Court saying charges will unfairly impact Netanyahu’s re-election efforts in the April election. It seeks to delay Mandelblit’s announcement until after the vote.
“The decision to hold the announcement today is the result of pressure by leftist thugs, and constitutes blunt intervention in the election process,” the party said in its motion.
“This is hugely significant – for the prime minister and for all of us,” Suzie Navot, a professor of constitutional and parliamentary law, told The Times of Israel. “This was an investigation conducted with caution, with restraint – some would say too much restraint, over too long. The evidence was checked and re-checked.”
The race is already close between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and opposition leader Benny Gants’ Blue and White Party so the loss of a few seats could put a new party in charge.