Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday rejected as “baseless” new allegations of bribery and fraud amid reports that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit approved a full criminal investigation against him.
“All these scandals have turned out to be baseless and so will the allegations being published in the media now,” Netanyahu said in a statement Friday, his first reaction to the allegations broadcast on Channel 2 on Thursday night, which said the investigation would focus on reports that he illegally received large funds from a businessman in Israel and another overseas.
“We keep repeating: This will come to nothing because there is nothing,” said Netanyahu, who has been implicated in a slew of scandals in recent months but has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing.
Earlier Friday, senior Likud ministers came to his defense alleging that this was another in a long string of attempts by the media to bring down Netanyahu.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, a senior Likud MK, told Israel Radio that he has no doubt that the investigation will amount to nothing, but is part of an “orchestrated campaign” against Netanyahu.
Levin said that Mandelblit only gave a green light to the investigation due to unprecedented pressure from the media. He claimed that it amounted to no more than “outrageous, anti-democratic behavior” by officials trying to remove Netanyahu using the legal system, because they are unable to defeat him in the elections.
Speaking to Army Radio on Friday, Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi echoed Levin’s claims, stating that the investigation was “part of a war of attrition surrounding the attorney general in the hope that he will open yet another investigation,” which could eventually lead to the prime minister’s downfall.
He said it was a continuation of the left’s political war against Netanyahu. “They have already despaired of winning the trust of the voting public,” so all that remains for them to do is to flood the legal establishment and attorney general with false charges, he said, adding that he was confident that this persecution would come to nothing.
However, opposition MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) praised the move, telling Army Radio that “the fact that leaders and prime ministers can be prosecuted, if necessary, is a cleansing process [to get rid] of the corruption that has spread in Israeli politics.”
Channel 2 news said Thursday that three top police investigators are being designated to lead an expected criminal investigation of the prime minister, including one whose expertise is in white-collar crime. The main case against him has been named “Case 1,000” by police, and a second, more minor case is known as “Case 2,000.”
Netanyahu is the prime suspect, and there are “marginal” suspicions against members of his family, the TV report said. A preliminary probe has been running for months, the report said, with some work carried out abroad. Some 50 people have already testified or been questioned over the various allegations, the TV report said.
Questioning Netanyahu will “require several sessions,” it noted.
In June, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich gave his go-ahead to the hush-hush probe by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, but demanded full cooperation on secrecy and that no details be leaked to the media, reports earlier this week claimed.
Mandelblit also reportedly instructed employees in the state prosecutor’s office to look into allegations that Netanyahu accepted 1 million euros (about $1.1 million) from convicted French fraudster Arnaud Mimran in 2009.
Earlier this month, in an apparently unrelated case, there were calls for the prime minister to be investigated for his role in a Defense Ministry deal to purchase submarines from a German company partly owned by the Iranian government.