JERUSALEM – Israeli police on Sunday recommended indicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery and corruption in a third case — this time on suspicion that the leader eased business regulations for the country’s largest telecommunications company in exchange for favorable coverage for him and his wife on a popular news website that the firm owned.
Police have also recommended that media mogul Shaul Elovitch — a close friend of Netanyahu and majority shareholder of Bezeq, the telecoms firm that owns the news site Walla! — be indicted on a charge in his role in the affair. Elovitch’s wife, Iris, and Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, were also implicated in the case, known as Case 4000.
While it is now up to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to formally prosecute those involved, Sunday’s announcement ramps up pressure on Netanyahu, who faces a raft of legal woes and who, in coming months, could find himself in the throes of early national elections after the departure last month of a key coalition partner left his government teetering on the edge.
His opponents on Sunday called for him to resign as soon as possible in light of the allegations, which follow police recommendations last February to charge him in two other corruption cases, and yet another case against his wife for breach of public trust.
Responding to the most recent charges, Netanyahu questioned the timing and veracity of Sunday’s announcement, accusing police of leaking parts of the investigation even before any conclusions were reached.
“Police recommendations have no legal status,” he said in a statement. “Only recently, police recommendations in cases against other public figures were rejected by the relevant authorities. I am certain that after considering the matters the same conclusion will be reached in this case as well.”
Netanyahu reiterated a phrase he has used since all the investigations against him were launched more than two years ago — “that there was nothing because there is nothing.”
When police initially said he should be charged, Netanyahu said it was an attempt by his opponents to unseat him through corruption allegations because they couldn’t win at the ballot box. Now he appears to be facing the challenge of both — legal charges and an election.
“The question is what will happen first: Will the attorney general decide to prosecute or will the government collapse?” said Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “If there is an election first and Netanyahu wins with everyone knowing about his legal issues, then he can say that despite knowledge of the legal battles, the people still want him.”
If the indictment comes first, it is unclear how or if Netanyahu will be able to remain prime minister.
“Netanyahu and his associates intervened in a blatant and ongoing manner, sometimes even daily, in the content published by the Walla News website and sought to influence the appointment of senior employees (editors and reporters),” police said.