1 Mar 2019

Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu faces corruptions charges

12:41 pm on 1 March 2019

Israel's attorney general intends to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in his office in Jerusalem on April 29, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Sebastian Scheiner

Photo: AFP

Mr Netanyahu faces possible charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three cases.

The prime minister is alleged to have accepted gifts from wealthy businessmen and dispensed favours to try to get more positive press coverage.

Mr Netanyahu, who faces an election, said in a TV address that the case would "collapse like a house of cards".

In a defiant broadcast, he repeated his assertion that he is the victim of a left-wing "witch-hunt" intended to topple him ahead of the closely contested election on 9 April.

A final hearing, probably after the election, will determine whether the charges go forward. The prime minister will have an opportunity to make his case then.

Mr Netanyahu is set to be charged with fraud and breach of trust for accepting expensive gifts - including cigars, pink champagne and jewellery worth $US264,100 - from an Israeli-born Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan and the Australian billionaire James Packer.

The gifts from Mr Milchan are alleged to have been in return for help with a US visa and tax breaks.

Mr Milchan and Mr Packer face no charges and have denied any wrongdoing.

In two other cases, Mr Netanyahu is accused of trying to get more favourable press coverage for himself.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit says he is considering charges of fraud and breach of trust in both, and bribery in one of them.

The most serious case is seen as that involving media mogul Shaul Elovitch, controller of Israel's largest telecom company, Bezeq.

Mr Netanyahu is accused of seeking favourable coverage from an Elovitch-owned news site in return for regulatory decisions that would benefit the media mogul.

Mr Elovitch, himself facing legal proceedings, has strongly denied any wrongdoing.

The impact of the charges could be significant, especially as Mr Netanyahu already heads a fragile coalition.

He and his right-wing Likud party face a serious challenge in the elections from a newly-announced centrist alliance led by ex-army chief Benny Gantz and TV journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid.

And recent polls suggest Likud could lose support and the ability to form a coalition if charges are levelled against the prime minister.

Mr Netanyahu has also come under fire this week for attempting to shore up votes by negotiating a merger of the religious pro-settlement Jewish Home party with the ultra-right Jewish Power party, which includes followers of the late anti-Arab extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.

Two powerful pro-Israel lobby groups in the US, Aipac and the American Jewish Committee, made rare criticism of Mr Netanyahu's move, describing Jewish Power as a "racist and reprehensible party".


Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs