Last night, after a 16-month investigation, the Israeli police announced that there is sufficient evidence to charge Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases against him.
The Israeli Attorney General, Avichai Mendelblit, will now review the material before deciding whether to file charges. Netanyahu can lawfully remain in office during that process, which could last several months.
The charges relate to Case 1000, which involves gifts such as cigars, champagne, jewellery and clothing that the Prime Minister and his wife Sara allegedly received from businessmen Arnon Milchan and James Packer. Over the course of a decade, the gifts were worth a total of £250,000 from Milchan and £50,000 from Packer.
The police rejected Netanyahu’s explanation that the gifts were being part of his close friendship with Milchan. The police described the relationship between Netanyahu and Milchan as one “of bribery, which amounts to a criminal offence, and not an innocent relationship between friends”.
The police said: “After Netanyahu’s election in 2009, the scope and frequency of goods increased significantly. The investigation found that the goods were given to the Prime Minister in light of his role as Prime Minister and Minister of Communications during the relevant period, and in return for his activity – directly or indirectly – to promote different matters that benefited Mr Milchan’s businesses, financial situation, status or reputation.”
They also gave examples of numerous decision and actions taken by the Prime Minister that were to the benefit of Milchan. These included efforts to promote a law extending tax benefits for Israelis returning from abroad after 10 years, something the police estimated would have saved Milchan millions of dollars. Finance Ministry officials rejected the proposal, saying it was contrary to the public interest because fewer taxes would be collected. It was also revealed last night that Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid served as a key witness in Case 1000 relating to his time as Finance Minister.
Case 2000 concerns conversations between the Prime Minister and the owner and publisher of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper Arnon “Noni” Mozes. It is alleged Netanyahu promised to limit the circulation of Yediot Ahronot’s rival Israel Hayom in return for favourable coverage.
The police also recommended that Milchan and Mozes be charged with bribery.