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Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu charged with bribery and fraud ahead of election

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Chatham House/Flickr)
February 28, 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted and faces bribery and fraud charges over his relationships with an Israeli telecom giant, as well as billionaires who supposedly have given him gifts in exchange for legislative favors.

After a hefty two-year investigation, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced charges of one count of bribery and two counts of fraud and breach of trust.

The charges mark the first time a current prime minister has been charged in Israel’s history, and it comes ahead of an election in April where Netanyahu is expected to run for a fifth term.

The bribery allegations stem from Netanyahu’s connection to Shaul Elovitch, the controlling member of a top Israeli telecom company, Bezeq.

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Netanyahu is accused of enacting changes in regulations in Bezeq’s favor, saving them hundreds of millions of dollars. In exchange, Netanyahu reportedly received positive press coverage on Walla, Bezeq’s news site.

Police said that Netanyahu and Elovitch held a “bribe-based relationship,” NBC News reported.

Other accusations tied to fraud and breach of trust include accepting gifts from billionaires, as well as offering to promote legislation in exchange for positive press coverage.

The announcement comes 39 days shy of the April 9 general election in Israel, where Netanyahu is vying for a fourth consecutive term – and fifth overall term.

Netanyahu has rejected the allegations and denied wrongdoing, calling the investigation and allegations nothing more than a “witch hunt.”

He is not required to resign over the charges, but continuing to serve out his term while facing trial could tarnish his reputation and implicate future political career plans.

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Israeli legal experts said it could be a year before a hearing is held to process the charges, and two years after that for the case to be heard in court.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party petitioned Israel’s High Court to block the announcement so close to the elections, but the court rejected the appeal.