Police urge graft charges against Netanyahu; process may take months


The Israeli police on Tuesday recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in two corruption cases, referred to as Case 1000 and Case 2000.

In a televised address from his Jerusalem residence just minutes after police made public their recommendations, Netanyahu said he had never sought personal gain in his public service.

"Over the years, I have been the subject of at least 15 inquiries and investigations", he said.

Critics see the legal measure as an attempt to protect Netanyahu, who could face public pressure to resign in light of the allegations.

Police have been investigating Netanyahu over suspicions that he received expensive gifts, including pricey cigars, from wealthy supporters such as Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.

"The prime minister never acted and did not deal with any issue for Milchan, except for the issue of the visa", he asserted, referring to Netanyahu's apparent efforts to lobby United States authorities to extend the businessman's 10-year visa. The two men, police said, discussed ways of slowing the growth of a rival daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, "through legislation and other means".

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Earlier, Israel's centre-left opposition alliance, the Zionist Union, called on the prime minister to resign.

One of the biggest surprises to emerge was that Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist opposition Yesh Atid party, had given testimony about Netanyahu's alleged efforts to help Milchan that he witnessed during his term as finance minister.

The police will hand over the investigative materials and its indictment recommendations to Israeli Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit.

In another column in Maariv, Ben Caspit said that Netanyahu's ultimate fate, in the hands of political allies who could bolt his governing coalition, "will only become clear in the street, in the polls, in the critical mass in the hearts and minds of Israeli citizens who still believe that Israel deserves an honest prime minister".

Netanyahu says his government remains stable despite the police recommending that he be indicted. "No one, not I, not anyone else, has plans to go to an election", Netanyahu told local government officials in Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu has claimed to be a victim of an overaggressive police force and a media witch hunt that has also targeted his family.

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Following his re-election as Prime Minister in 2009, "the scope and frequency of the transfer of goods increased significantly", the police statement said.

Netanyahu said that this was merely the latest attempt to remove him from office, and it would fail.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is "not living up to the standard" expected of the office, but stopped short of calling for his resignation.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in both police criminal investigations that have gone on for more than a year. Mandelblit won't be able to announce his decision during a campaign - for fear of tipping the elections, and once Bibi wins, it will be politically hard for the attorney general to press charges at all (if Netanyahu loses it won't matter anyway).

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose centre-right Kulanu party controls 10 seats, will also be among those facing tough questions over whether he will stick with Netanyahu.

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