JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's attorney general on Thursday indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in corruption cases, throwing him into a legal dilemma and pushing Israel into a deeper political crisis.
The charges range from attempts to collude with the press, presumed gifts of cigars and champagne, and the exchange of interests between businessmen and government employees.
This is the first time that a prime minister who is still in office has been indicted, and this decision could put an end to Netanyahu's long-running career.
Here are questions that explain everything on these issues:
- What are the allegations against Netanyahu?
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelbilt said he filed criminal charges against Netanyahu in connection with investigations called the 1000, 2000 and 4000 cases.
Cigar and Champagne:
The first case, "File 1000," concerns the receipt of luxury types of cigars, champagne bottles and jewelry. Investigators want to know whether Netanyahu and members of his family received gifts worth more than 700,000 shekels ($ 240,000) from wealthy people, including Israeli Israeli producer Arnon Melchan and Australian billionaire James Packer in exchange for personal financial privileges.
In this case, Netanyahu is accused of fraud and dishonesty.
Investigators say Netanyahu has tried to reach an agreement with publisher Arnon Moses, owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, to obtain positive coverage in exchange for pushing for a law that could have reduced the spread of the weekly supplement of the free Israel Today newspaper. And the biggest competition for the newspaper "Yediot Aharonot."
The agreement was not concluded, but under these facts Netanyahu is accused of fraud and dishonesty.
Ari Harrow, a former director of Netanyahu's office, agreed to testify in return for leniency if convicted.
Investigators accuse Netanyahu in the most serious case, "File 4000," of trying to get positive coverage on the website "Wella", in exchange for securing government privileges worth millions of dollars to Shaul Ilovich, head of the group "Bezeq" communications and "Wella".
At the heart of the investigation is the 2015 merger between Bezeq and the satellite television group YES. This process needed the approval of the monitoring authorities, and Netanyahu was then the minister of communications.
On December 2, 2018, the police recommended that Netanyahu be formally charged with corruption, fraud and dishonesty in the case. The investigation also targets Elovic, his wife, and Stella Handler, then the chairman of the telecoms group.
Attorney General Sarah Netanyahu acquitted the wife of the prime minister, as well as his son Yair.
- What does Netanyahu say?
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a "campaign of persecution" motivated by political media and left-wing politicians seeking to oust him from office.
Netanyahu said on Thursday after the attorney general's decision to indict him that corruption allegations against him amounted to a coup, and that investigators did not search for the truth but were pursuing him, claiming that the investigation against him was biased.
Supporters of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party have accused the Israeli justice system of bias and have argued that receiving gifts from friends is not against the law.
- Will the trial begin soon?
It is unlikely that it may take several months before any of these cases reaches the court. Netanyahu could also make a settlement deal instead of appearing in court.
Allies in the Knesset also said they were seeking parliamentary immunity from prosecution. But with the unprecedented upheaval in the Israeli political scene, it is not clear whether such a move is possible.
- Is there a possibility of imprisonment if convicted?
The penalty of conviction for bribery is up to 10 years' imprisonment or a fine or both. The penalty for fraud and dishonesty is imprisonment of up to three years.
- Will there be political consequences?
Netanyahu has dominated Israel's political landscape for more than a decade, but he and his main rival, Benny Gantz, failed to form a government after holding elections twice this year in April and September without a decisive result, leaving the country in a political and economic stalemate.
If there is no political breakthrough in the next three weeks, Israel will face a third election.
If Netanyahu remains prime minister, he will not be legally obliged to resign. Under Israeli law, the prime minister must step down if convicted, but he can remain in office for the duration of legal proceedings, including appeals.