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Netanyahu will be prosecuted for corruption, fraud and breach of trust, pending hearing

In a decision that drastically shook Israeli politics less than six weeks before the general elections, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced yesterday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be charged with criminal offenses in three separate cases against him, including bribery in the great corruption of Bezeq probe, waiting for a hearing.

The decision marks the first time in the history of Israel that was said that serving a prime minister faces criminal charges and casts a strong shadow over Netanyahu's re-election campaign.

Netanyahu will be accused of fraud and breach of trust in cases 1000 and 2000, and bribe, fraud and breach of trust in case 4000, unless he can convince Mandelblit to reconsider during the hearing process.

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The Attorney General detailed the allegations in a 57-page document that was released on Thursday night.

Mandelblit, in his decision, wrote that according to the suspicions the Prime Minister "damaged the image of public service and public confidence in it" and was suspected of abusing its position and state, and knowing "take a bribe as a public server in stock exchange related to your position ".

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and later Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Office of the Prime Minister in Jerusalem on February 2, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

"This is very important – for the prime minister and for all of us," said Suzie Navot, professor of constitutional and parliamentary law. "This was a cautionary investigation, in moderation – some would say too much restriction, too long. The tests were verified and reviewed." The general prosecutor knew very well how dramatic the political shock would be, he said. "And yet the decision was taken to accuse, in all three cases."

Despite the recommendations of the lawyer and the state police that the Prime Minister has trial for bribe in all cases, Mandelblit opted for the lowest cost of fraud and breach of trust in two of the affairs.

Mandelblit said he would not pursue lawsuits against Sara Netanyahu's wife and son Yair, who were also suspected in the cases.

Responding to the decision, Netanyahu's Likud party continued to insist that "there is nothing" for cases against the prime minister. He accused "the media and the left" of lobbying the general prosecutor for the decision. "Nobody is surprised by the announcement," said the party.

He also stated that "the witch hunt against the prime minister began with an attempt to attack him with four cases of bribery. Even before the hearing, three of them collapsed."

Netanyahu began giving a statement to the media about the decision at 8:00 p.m.

The prime minister is currently seeking re-election in the April 9 elections against an opposition bolstered by the entry into politics of IDF's former head of state, Benny Gantz.

The announcement on Thursday of the intention to accuse the Prime Minister – who has argued for a long time that the decision should be postponed until after voting so that it did not affect public opinion – it places the legal situation of Netanyahu in front of and center in the campaign.

The decision to accuse the charges, to the hearing, in the criminal investigations against Netanyahu could have a changing impact for the game in the elections, revealed an interview published in the days of Israel on Thursday before. The ruling party Likud could lose both a significant support and its ability to form a coalition after the vote, the poll said, published during the night from Wednesday to Thursday.

Netanyahu may request a hearing to answer the planned prosecution, in a process that may take up to a year, during which it is not legally required to resign. Israeli law only requires a prime minister to resign if he condemned it, but experts have suggested that Netanyahu could have a "problem" if he pursues keeping the post after a formal charge is filed as he completes a hearing process. According to the law and precedent of the High Court, ministers who are not prime minister are forced to abandon this situation. There is no clear legal rule about the prime minister.

Thursday's announcement came after a last attempt to prevent Mandelblit from announcing charges. Netanyahu's Likud party filed a petition before the High Court on Thursday morning, seeking to stop the attorney general from publishing his decision, but the court rejected the oath on Thursday afternoon.

In the case of 1000, which include allegations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from multi-millionaire benefactors, including Dutch Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors, Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust, with the latter one Delicate something delicate regarding an official who violates the trust that the public has placed in him. Milchan should not be charged.

Mandelblit, in his decision, wrote that, according to suspicions, "you damaged the image of the public service and the public's confidence in it, while serving in public offices and formost as the prime minister, for years had an inappropriate relationship with Milchan and Packaging.

"This included receiving" benefits connected to your public positions "for a total of NIS 700,000 and acting" in favor of the entrepreneur Milchan while he was in a serious confluence of interest.

"In his actions he allegedly abused his position and state and significantly and harmed the property of public administration, the integrity of public servants and public trust in public servants."

In the 2000 case, which involved charges, Netanyahu agreed with the news editor of Yedioth Ahronoth, Arnon Mozes, to weaken a rival every day in exchange for a more favorable hedge of Yedioth, Mandelblit will also seek to charge the Prime Minister with fraud and breach of trust , while Mozes will be accused of bribing. The case is said to have been controversial at the Mandelblit office, and many officials accuse Netanyahu of being charged with bribing, while Mandelblit considered that he was not in charge of the prime minister.

Mandelblit said that, according to suspects, Netanyahu and Mozes "recognized that the other had the capacity to promote the interests of the other" in the period before the 2015 elections and discussed such possibilities.

"According to the suspicions, in your actions in performing your duties, it has committed acts that are equivalent to breaches of trust and have caused substantial damage to integrity [of the position] and the confidence of the public. "

In case 4000, considered the most serious against the prime minister, Netanyahu is accused of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the giant Bezeq Telecom, in exchange for a positive coverage of the Walla News website. In that case, Mandelblit announced that he intended to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust, and both Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribes.

Mandelblit said that according to the suspicions the relationship between Netanyahu and Elovitch was "based on giving and taking", and the actions of the Prime Minister benefitting from Elovitch set the employer between at least NIS 1.8 billion ($ 500 million) between 2012-2017. In return, the news site of Elovitch Walla "posted your political messages that you want to convey to the public.

"You took benefits … knowing that you are taking a bribe as a public servant in exchange for actions related to your position."

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Court for a permanent hearing in Case 4000 on February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

The decision of Mandelblit broke with the findings of the State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan in several cases, when choosing to impose minor charges against some of the suspects or to drop all the accusations.

Netanyahu denied any pardon in the three cases and alleged that the investigations against him are a "witch hunt" that involves the left, the media and the police who relentlessly press a "weak" general prosecutor.

After being notified of an impending charge, suspects generally provide the complete case materials against them. However, according to sources of the Ministry of Justice, Netanyahu's defense team has requested that the files be rejected until after the April 9 elections, reasoning that they could be used for political purposes and campaign propaganda.

Alan Dershowitz, a prominent American lawyer, came to the defense of Netanyahu last Thursday, publishing an open letter to Mandelblit in which he warned that a charge against Prime Minister before the elections undermines the democratic process. "I am very concerned about press freedom and the freedom of government in Israel are beginning to accuse people for trying to get a good coverage of the media," Dershowitz also told Army Radio, referring to cases 2000 and 4000, which revolves around to the alleged illicit offers in which the prime minister allegedly offered favors in exchange for favorable media coverage. "I do not know of any other country that has criminalized trying to get a good coverage and that it is a bribe base or any other investigation of corruption."

On Sunday, the Commission on Permits of the State Comptroller rejected a second request for Netanyahu's request to finance his legal defense in three cases through payments of wealthy members, including his cousin.

Ehud Olmert, the former former country minister serving in prison, left office in 2008 during his investigation, but before announcing the intention to file charges. He served 16 months in prison for corruption crimes and was released in July 2017.

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