Charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust have been unveiled against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three separate corruption cases, the Attorney General announced on Thursday evening, marking the first time in Israel’s history that a sitting PM faces indictment in criminal investigations.
During a final pre-indictment hearing last month, Netanyahu’s high-powered legal team tried to convince prosecutors to close the cases, including the most serious charge of bribery. But Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee who once served as his cabinet secretary, is moving forward. “It is a very sad day for Israel and for me personally,” said Mandelblit, adding that the decision to indict “is not a matter of politics, of right and left.”
Speaking in Jerusalem on Thursday night, Netanyahu described the charges as “an attempted coup against a Prime Minister” and vowed to continue to lead the country.
Israel’s deadlocked parliament means that a formal indictment may still be months away. Nevertheless, the charges are a significant blow to Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, who has held office for a total of more than 13 years. He has proclaimed his innocence ever since the criminal investigations became public nearly three years ago.
As the investigations advanced, Netanyahu refused repeated calls from opposition lawmakers to step down. Unlike a government minister, or ordinary lawmaker, who must resign his position if indicted, a Prime Minister is under no such obligation. Instead, he or she is only required to step down after any conviction and subsequent appeals process has played out, which could take years.
Netanyahu and his allies have conducted a campaign to delegitimize the investigations since they were made public in January 2017. Characterizing the legal process as a media-fueled witch hunt, he has often promised, “There will be nothing because there is nothing.” But as the probes advanced and Netanyahu faced more than 10 rounds of questioning, “nothing” turned into something quite significant.