JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was formally charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust on Thursday, making him the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office and sending Israel’s already stalemated political system into further disarray.
Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit capped almost three years of investigation and months of speculation by handing down a 63-page indictment against the country’s longest-serving prime minister and its center of political gravity for the last decade.
The cases against Netanyahu center on police allegations that the prime minister and his wife, Sara, accepted more than $260,000 worth of luxury goods in exchange for political favors and that Netanyahu interceded with regulators and lawmakers on behalf of two media companies in exchange for positive news stories.
Netanyahu has steadfastly denied wrongdoing during a wide-ranging probe that he has repeatedly dismissed as a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
In October, his legal team spent four marathon days in front of prosecutors arguing that the charges should be reduced or dismissed, and few here expect him to do anything other than ferociously fight the counts that emerged.
Of more immediate concern is how the indictments could scramble his standing in Israel’s chaotic political standoff.
“We are in a historical and unprecedented situation with new legal questions almost every day,” Suzie Navot, a professor of constitutional law at the Haim Striks Law School in Rishon LeZion.