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Israel's Netanyahu Indicted on Bribery, Fraud, Breach of Trust Charges 

Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protest outside his residence following Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit's indictment ruling in Jerusalem, Nov. 21, 2019.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has led the country for 13 years, was indicted Thursday by the country's top prosecutor on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in an investigation the leader has called an "attempted coup."

The indictment centers on allegations that the prime minister and his wife accepted more than $260,000 worth of jewelry, cigars, champagne and other gifts in exchange for political favors. The prime minister is also accused of interfering with regulatory bodies and lawmakers on behalf of two media companies in exchange for positive news coverage.

The decision marked the first time in the nation's history that a sitting prime minister had faced criminal charges.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit charged Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust in three cases, and bribery in one case.


The most damaging charge in the indictments is the accusation that the prime minister took bribes to promote regulations worth approximately $500 million to Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq.

The indictment said Netanyahu and telecom magnate Shaul Elovitch, whose company holds Bezeq, had a relationship "based on a mutual understanding that each of them had significant interests that the other side had the ability to advance."

The charges do not mean that Netanyahu, 70, will resign.

"According to the basic law of the government, a prime minister only has to resign after the final verdict has been given," Israeli legal expert Oren Gazal-Ayal said. "We are talking now only about an indictment, so according to the terms of the law, he can continue to serve legally while being charged and while being tried in court."

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announces his decision regarding indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over alleged corruption, in Jerusalem Nov. 21, 2019.
Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announces his decision regarding indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over alleged corruption, in Jerusalem Nov. 21, 2019.

"A day in which the attorney general decides to serve an indictment against a seated prime minister for serious crimes of corrupt governance is a heavy and sad day, for the Israeli public and for me personally," Mandelblit said at a press conference Thursday.

Soon after the attorney general's press conference, Netanyahu appeared on national TV to rail against the indictment. Netanyahu said the indictment was filled with "false accusations" and called it a "tainted investigation." He also described it as an "attempted coup" against him.

"Police and investigators are not above the law," the prime minister said. "The time has come to investigate the investigators."

Mandelblit was appointed by Netanyahu five years ago and has previously been seen as an ally of the prime minister.

"This is not a matter of politics," the attorney general said. "This is an obligation placed on us, the people of law enforcement, and upon me personally as the one at its head."

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Concerned by comments

Dr. Guy Ziv, an assistant professor of international relations at American University's School of International Service, told VOA he was concerned by Netanyahu's lashing out at police and investigators.

"It has a negative effect on Israeli democracy, because he's essentially suggesting that the institutions are not to be trusted," Ziv said. "I would even go further and say that he's inciting the public against the attorney general. He is inciting them against the courts and against the media, just as he's been inciting against the Arab minority against the Israeli left."

The indictment might cripple Netanyahu's chances in the looming elections.

According to an October opinion poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, about 65% of all Israelis said Netanyahu should resign as chair of the Likud Party if indicted. However, only 31% of Likud voters felt that way, according to the poll.

The right-wing Likud party will face an empowered Blue and White party if a third election is held.

The two parties were tied after the April parliamentary elections, with each party holding 35 seats.

Despite Netanyahu’s initially having the support of potential coalition partners after the election, he has not been able to form a coalition government, causing the country to hold elections in September as well. Both the Blue and White and Likud parties lost seats.

FILE - Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz addresses reporters in Tel Aviv, Israel, Nov. 20, 2019.
FILE - Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz addresses reporters in Tel Aviv, Israel, Nov. 20, 2019.

Netanyahu found himself unable to form a coalition government in Israeli's Knesset again after the September elections. His chief rival, ex-military chief Benny Gantz, was then offered the opportunity to form a coalition. On Wednesday, Gantz announced he was also unable to form a coalition government.

Netanyahu also may face resistance from within his own party.

Knesset lawmakers have less than a month to organize a coalition and select a lawmaker to lead a majority government, and it is unlikely they will succeed. If no lawmaker can garner 61 seats in the 120-seat legislature, then the country will need to hold elections for the third time this year.

The trial of Netanyahu could take months or even years to resolve, according to experts.