Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday.
Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing and said he is the victim of a politically orchestrated “witch hunt,” faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum 3-year term for fraud and breach of trust, according to legal experts.
In February, Mandelblit announced he was considering indicting Netanyahu on one count of bribery and three counts of fraud and breach of trust, in three different cases. The cases are known as Case 1000, Case 2000 and Case 4000.
Case 1000 alleges that Netanyahu received gifts, including cigars and champagne, worth “hundreds of thousands of shekels” from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and other supporters.
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Case 2000 alleges that Netanyahu worked out a deal for favorable coverage with Arnon “Noni” Moses, the publisher of an Israeli newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, in exchange for backing a bill that would weaken a rival newspaper.
Case 4000 alleges that Netanyahu made regulatory decisions that favored the Bezeq telecommunications group in exchange for positive coverage on the news website Walla.
The indictment comes while Netanyahu is serving as Israel’s caretaker prime minister after he failed to cobble together a government last month.
Netanyahu still has the option to ask the Israeli Parliament for immunity. But this request would need to be approved by a special committee that has not been established due to ongoing political deadlock.
The prime minister’s chief political rival, Benny Gantz, announced Wednesday that he had also failed to form a government, prolonging the country’s political uncertainty and raising the prospect of Israel holding its third national election in a year.
There are now 21 days in which any member of Parliament can become prime minister if they muster the 61 signatures needed to achieve a majority in the Knesset. If that does not happen, Israel will return to the polls.
In which case, Netanyahu’s indictment potentially poses a new legal problem.
If he wins the next election, it will be the first time a candidate for government is under indictment, raising the question as to whether President Reuven Rivlin can give Netanyahu the mandate to form the next government.