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Netanyahu indicted for corruption, denounces "attempted coup"

Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted in all three corruption cases against him — for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He has claimed the indictments are "an attempted coup" to topple him and his right-wing government.

Why it matters: This is the first time in Israeli history that a sitting prime minister has faced criminal charges. Israel's attorney general sent the indictments to Netanyahu's lawyers and to the speaker of the Knesset — Israel's parliament — in order to begin the process of stripping him of his parliamentary immunity, the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

The backdrop: The most painful charge for Netanyahu stems from "Case 4000," which concerns his and his wife's relationship with Israel's leading telecommunications tycoon.

  • According to a police statement, Netanyahu, who at the time was also the telecom minister, allegedly gave Shaul Elovitz regulatory benefits worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In return, Netanyahu and his wife were allegedly allowed to demand positive coverage from one of Israel's major news websites, owned by Elovitz.
  • Flashback: Police recommended charges in two other bribery cases in February. One involves Netanyahu allegedly taking "gifts" worth $200,000 from businessmen in return for promoting their interests (Case 1000). The other is an alleged bribe deal between Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Israel's largest newspaper (Case 2000).

Netanyahu is Israel's longest-serving prime minister, having served from 1996 to 1999 and again since 2009. He is also perhaps President Trump's closest international ally.

  • According to the law, Netanyahu will have 30 days to ask the Knesset not to strip him of his parliamentary immunity. Because the Knesset is barely functioning amid the current post-election deadlock, the process could take a long time.

The big picture: The looming indictments plunged Israel into a political deadlock following an inconclusive election two months ago.

  • Netanyahu and Benny Gantz both failed to form coalitions, and a proposed national unity government has been blocked because Gantz refuses to serve under a prime minister facing corruption charges.
  • Netanyahu, meanwhile, has refused to step aside as prime minister because the indictments threaten his political survival.
  • What to watch: If last-ditch efforts to form a government over the next three weeks fail, Israel will be headed for its third election in a year. It's unclear what Netanyahu's status will be at that time.

The latest: Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said in remarks to the press that he made the decision to indict Netanyahu with a heavy heart but with a full heart. 

  • "The rule of law is not a matter for picking and choosing. It is not a matter of politics and it is not a matter of left and right," he said.
  • Mandelblit warned of incitement and threats against prosecutors dealing with the Netanyahu cases and says "there is a big difference between criticism and disseminating conspiracy theories."

Between the lines: Mandelblit is Netanyahu’s former Cabinet secretary and was the prime minister's candidate for attorney general. However, Netanyahu and his political allies have started attacking Mandelblit in recent weeks, claiming they don’t trust his judgment and good faith.

This story is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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