By Prarthana Mitra
On Sunday, the Israeli police urged bribery and fraud charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, for the third time this year, for allegedly relaxing regulatory norms for a telecom firm in exchange for positive media coverage.
What are the latest allegations?
In the case now referred to as Case 4000, the first couple has been accused of interfering in regulatory decisions that favoured Bezeq, the firm in question, and its majority shareholder Shaul Elovitch.
The Israeli police and the Israel Securities Authorities said there was sufficient evidence for bribery, fraud and breach-of-trust charges against both parties. The Netanyahus are alleged to have been given more positive coverage on Walla! news website, owned by Bezeq, in what is perhaps the most damaging of a series of corruption cases against him.
What about the previous two cases?
This follows a series of other evidence against the embattled PM that suggests similar favours traded with media organisations and Hollywood moguls.
One of them again alleges fawning of news coverage against the sitting PM, where Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot did Netanyahu’s bidding for good press, in exchange for his government’s help to rein in a rival publication.
In the second case, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving gifts of champagne and cigars worth a million shekels ($270,000) from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan in exchange for help in getting him a US visa.
In February, the state police had for the first time recommended indicting Netanyahu, a close ally of President Donald Trump’s in the Middle East, in both of these corruption investigations.
How Netanyahu responded
The 69-year-old PM rejected the recent allegation calling it unsurprising, as he has done in the past when he dismissed them as baseless. Elovitch has been unavailable for comments so far.
“The witch hunt against us continues,” he told a gathering of activists from his Likud party.
Following the police’s recommendation, Netanyahu tweeted, “These recommendations were determined and leaked even before the investigations began…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.”
Noting that Sunday was the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, he reportedly said, “We’re celebrating the victory of light over darkness,” adding that the light will always win out.
What happens next
With a history of being questioned by investigators on the earlier charges, it remains to be seen if the Attorney-General Aluf Avichai Mandelblit (appointed by Netanyahu) will press charges on the latest one.
The recommendation, however, deals a heavy blow to Netanyahu’s fragile ruling coalition that narrowly escaped collapse last month and is currently powered by a one-vote majority in Parliament. The government’s handling of the simmering conflict with the Palestinian territory of Gaza has left tens of thousands dead, led to the resignation of defence minister Avigdor Lieberman and continues to be decried all over the world. While the country may be gearing up for early legislative polls in the wake of political and territorial conflict, mounting charges against the second-term PM stand to reduce his chances of return.
The latest charges, if pressed before the next elections, could pave the way for the country’s first sitting PM to be indicted. However, if he wins another election before charges are brought, Netanyahu would be politically stronger to remain in office even while facing prosecution.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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