Israeli police say there is enough evidence to charge Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a third case.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu visiting the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, on August 26, 2018.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu visiting the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, on August 26, 2018. (AFP)

Israeli police on Sunday said they had found enough evidence for bribery and fraud charges to be brought against Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife in a third corruption case against the Israeli prime minister.

Authorities allege Netanyahu awarded regulatory favours to Israel's leading telecommunications company, Bezeq Telecom Israel, in return for more positive coverage of him and his wife on a news website, Walla, owned by the company. 

Netanyahu rejected all allegations against him and his wife during a speech to his Likud party in Tel Aviv to celebrate the start of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.

“It’s clear for everybody to see the transparent, petty timing of the publication of the pre-determined recommendations, the deliberate leaks, the tainted process and the false allegations about me and my wife,” Netanyahu said

“[The investigation] has been a match-fix. The recommendations aren’t surprising, and the timing isn’t surprising.”

His credit with the public has gone down since. 

Over 70 percent of those surveyed by The Israel Democracy Institute perceived the government to be corrupt. 

At least 19 percent of the respondents thought Israel's leadership was "quite corrupt" while 28 percent marked "very corrupt." Only six percent respondents thought the leadership was "not at all corrupt."

Here are five things you should know about the Netanyahu corruption case:

What is Netanyahu accused of?

There are four corruption allegations against him, known as cases 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000. He is accused of bribery, fraud, breach of trust and misuse of state funds.

Case 1000: Netanyahu is suspected of accepting gifts of cigars, champagne and jewellery from Israeli producer Arnon Milchan and business tycoon James Packer. These gifts were estimated to be valued at hundreds of thousands of shekels. His wife Sara Netanyahu has been accused of asking Milchan for jewellery worth $2,700.

In case 2000, Israeli police claim to have tapes showing negotiations between Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, Yedioth publisher, to make daily coverage more positive towards the prime minister in exchange for restoring Yedioth's ranking among the country's media.

Although Netanyahu gave testimony for case 3000, he was not implicated in this one. But his close aides are suspects, accused of bribery and fraud in the procurement process of submarines worth $2 billion.

After a lengthy investigation into case 4000 involving Netanyahu's relationship with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israel' s telecom giant Bezeq, police want to bring charges.

Police said they found sufficient evidence that confidants of Netanyahu promoted regulatory changes worth  $280 million to Bezeq. In exchange, they believe Netanyahu used his connections with Elovitch to receive positive press coverage on Bezeq's popular news site Walla.

The Bezeq case is the most serious of which Netanyahu has been accused. Two of his top confidants have turned state witnesses and are believed to have provided police with incriminating evidence.

Netanyahu held the government's communications portfolio until last year and oversaw regulation in the field. Former journalists at the Walla news site have attested to being pressured to refrain from negative reporting of Netanyahu.

Who else is accused?

Sara Netanyahu has also allegedly misused state funds for her personal spending.

In one case known as the “Meals ordering affair,” the prosecutor said $100,000 worth of food was ordered to her family residence from luxury restaurants in Israel from 2009 to 2013.

She also illegally hired a private chef for $10,000, despite the availability of a state chef.

She was charged in June with fraud and breach of trust and of aggravated fraudulent receipt of goods. If convicted, Sara Netanyahu could face up to five years in prison.

How have Israeli officeholders fared in past investigations?

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert resigned after a police investigation recommended indicting him for corruption in September 2008.

He was found guilty in 2014 of accepting bribes from real estate developers when he was Jerusalem’s mayor, before his 2006-09 term as prime minister. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison but only served 16 months.

Former president Moshe Katsav was on trial for raping a woman and sexually harassing two of his staff members. He resigned in 2007 as a part of plea bargain. 

Katsav was found guilty of rape and sexual harassment and sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011. He served five years of his sentence.

There have been other cases where former officeholders were indicted and sentenced over bribery, smuggling and other charges.

What does Israeli law say about removing a sitting prime minister? 

In order to remove Netanyahu from office, three stages need to be completed according to Israeli law.

The police should investigate to see if there is enough evidence to formulate charges.

The attorney general, in this case Netanyahu's close associate, should review the police investigation and then charge the prime minister.

Three judges in the Jerusalem District Court have to hear the case against the prime minister.

Finally, the prime minister will only be forced to quit office if the High Court of Justice rules he or she was convicted in a crime involving moral turpitude.

What happens next?

Netanyahu's fate now lies in the hands of his attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, who will decide in the coming months whether the prime minister should stand trial on a host of corruption allegations that could play a central role in next year's election campaign.

The police recommendations do not have any immediate impact on Netanyahu. They go to his hand-picked attorney general, Mandelblit, who will review the material and make the final decision on whether to press charges.

That decision will have a great impact on Netanyahu's future. Israeli law is unclear about whether an indicted prime minister would have to step down. But at the minimum, a trial would put great pressure on Netanyahu, who has been in office for nearly a decade, to step aside.

Israel must hold its next election by November 2019.

Mandelblit's office has not said when he will issue his decision. Most analysts expect him to take several months to review the material.

Reuven Hazan, a political scientist at Hebrew University, said Netanyahu will likely try to push forward elections before Mandelblit decides whether to indict. Netanyahu holds a solid lead in all opinion polls, and a victory would make it more difficult for Mandelblit to indict and potentially force out a newly re-elected leader.

"He'll send a message to the attorney general that everyone knew about these three police reports and they still voted for him and want him in power," Hazan said. That would force the attorney general "to seriously reconsider his decision," he said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies