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Israeli police recommend indicting Netanyahu in bribery case

Photo: Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images

On Sunday, the Israeli police recommended that the country's attorney general indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu for alleged bribery due to their relationship with Israel's leading telecommunication tycoon.

Why it matters: This is a very big deal. Case 4000, as it is widely known, is the third time in the last year the police recommended Netanyahu be indicted for bribery. The previous recommendations dealt with Netanyahu allegedly taking "gifts" worth $200,000 from businessmen in return for allegedly promoting their interests (Case 1000) and an alleged bribe deal between Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Israel's largest newspaper (Case 2000). But the allegations in Case 4000 are the gravest of all the corruption investigations against Netanyahu.

Background: Case 4000 has been investigated by the elite Israeli police unit Lahav 433, the Israeli equivalent of the FBI, and the Israeli Securities Authority since February 2018.

  • Netanyahu and his wife allegedly took bribes from Shaul Elovitz, a telecommunications tycoon who controls Israel's biggest telecom company, Bezeq.
  • According to the police statement, Netanyahu, who at the time was also the telecom minister, allegedly gave Elovitz regulatory benefits worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In return, Netanyahu and his wife meddled in the content of Walla, one of Israel's major news websites owned by Elovitz, and demanded positive coverage.

The police recommended that the attorney general indict Netanyahu for taking bribes, fraud, breach of trust and acceptance under false pretenses. The police recommended that Sara Netanyahu be indicted for taking bribes, fraud, breach of trust and obstruction of justice.

  • The police statement stressed that Netanyahu and Elovitz had a "relationship based on bribes" and that Netanyahu and his associates brazenly meddled — sometimes on a daily basis — in the coverage of Walla's website. It added that Netanyahu and his associates even tried to influence appointments of news editors and reporters in order to promote the Netanyahu family's interests.
  • During the investigation, the Israeli police recruited two state witnesses: Shlomo Filber, a Netanyahu confidant who was appointed as the director general of the telecom ministry and executed Netanyahu's orders regarding Bezeq telecommunications, and Nir Hefetz, the Netanyahu family's spin doctor who was in charge of the meddling with Walla's website.
  • The police also recommended that Elovitz and his wife be indicted for giving bribes to the Netanyahus as well as New York-based Israeli businessman Zeev Rubinstein, a close confidant of the Netanyahu family, for mediation in the bribe deal.

Netanyahu's reaction was a total rejection of the allegations: "The police recommendations about me and my wife don’t surprise anybody — and so is the timing of their publication. Those recommendations were leaked before the investigation even started. The police recommendations have no legal standing, and previous police recommendations regarding other politicians were rejected by the attorney general. I am sure that after the authorized officials will examine the issue they will conclude there was nothing."

  • Israeli opposition leaders attacked Netanyahu, claiming he is corrupt and calling for his resignation.
  • Ministers in the Likud, Netanyahu's party, issued statements attacking the police and defending Netanyahu.

What's next: Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who was until few years ago Netanyahu's Cabinet secretary, will decide in the next 3–4 months whether to indict Netanyahu and his wife in the corruption cases. His decision will influence Netanyahu's forthcoming political decisions — mainly the date for early elections. The decisions on the Netanyahu corruption cases will also affect the calculus of the Trump administration as they attempt to determine a release for their Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

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