JERUSALEM: Israel’s state prosecutors and Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers were wrapping up the pre-indictment hearing over a slew of corruption allegations against the prime minister on Monday.
Netanyahu’s lawyers arrived at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem for the fourth and final day of the proceedings where they were meeting with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and his team to appeal that the cases against Netanyahu be dropped.
Mandelblit has recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three separate cases that have dogged the long-serving premier. The hearing is the final step before the attorney general decides whether to issue a formal indictment.
The legal woes come as Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival, with the country’s unprecedented second election of the year failing to provide him with a clear victory. In last month’s election, neither Netanyahu nor his chief challenger, Benny Gantz, secured the required parliamentary majority to form a new government. Both men have expressed support for a unity government as a way out of the deadlock, but they remain far apart on who should lead it and what smaller parties would join them.
Gantz and his centrist Blue and White Party have so far rejected a partnership with Netanyahu, citing his legal woes. A failure to reach a deal could trigger a third election in less than a year.
Netanyahu is desperate to stay on as prime minister, a post he can use as a pulpit as he tries to fend off any charges. Israeli law requires Cabinet ministers to step down if charged with a crime. But the law is vague for sitting prime ministers, meaning he could theoretically remain in the post if he is indicted, though he would likely face calls to step aside.
The allegations against Netanyahu include suspicions that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of champagne and cigars from billionaire friends, offered to trade favors with a newspaper publisher and used his influence to help a wealthy telecom magnate in exchange for favorable coverage on a popular news site.
Netanyahu has called the allegations part of a witch hunt, lashing out against the media, police, prosecutors and the justice system. The attorney general is expected to render his final decision by the end of the year.
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