Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday dismissed police recommendations that he be indicted for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in a pair of corruption cases as “unfounded” and “outrageous,” vowing he was innocent and would continue to lead Israel for years to come.
In a televised 13-minute speech from the Prime Minister’s Residence, Netanyahu said throughout his life, he has always worked solely and strictly to benefit the State of Israel and its security, and was not influenced by gifts he is alleged to have received in exchange for advancing businessmen’s interests.
“The only thing that motivates me is the interest of the state,” he said. His actions, he said, were “not for cigars from a friend. Not for press coverage. Not for anything. Just for the state,” he said.
Netanyahu’s speech came minutes before police published their recommendations for his indictment in two years-long corruption investigations, known as cases 1000 and 2000.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, including hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
During his speech, Netanyahu cast doubt on the objectivity of police investigators, following Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich’s assertion last week that private sleuths tried to dig up dirt on police investigating Netanyahu.
“It is impossible to break free from the impression that the [police recommendations] were influenced by the unfounded feelings of interrogators that I acted against him,” he said. The investigation simply could not have been “objective,” he claimed.
“Therefore it is no surprise that these are the recommendations,” he said, alleging that they had been predetermined from the start of the probe.
The police recommendations will now go to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who will have to decide whether to indict Netanyahu on any or all of the suggested charges.
Adopting a defensive stance, which he has deployed routinely amid weekly revelations about the suspicions, Netanyahu said he has long been a victim of “slander,” and that some 15 probes that have been opened into his conduct over the years were part of an effort “to topple him from power.”
“All these attempts, without exception, ended with nothing. Because I know the truth, I am telling you all that also this time they will end without anything,” he said.
“These recommendations have no status in a democratic state,” the prime minister added, noting that a substantial proportion of cases in which police recommend prosecution end without charges brought.
Directly addressing the allegations against him, Netanyahu vehemently denied accepting gifts from Milchan in exchange for political favors, and said he in fact worked against Milchan’s interests on a number of occasions.
Specifically, police allege Netanyahu reached out on Milchan’s behalf to former US secretary of state John Kerry to solve the Hollywood producer’s visa issues; pushed legislation that would shield Milchan from having to pay US taxes; and helped him become a major shareholder in Channel 2, among other allegations.
In exchange, Netanyahu allegedly received NIS 750,000 ($221,000) in favors and gifts from Milchan, according to police, as well as another NIS 250,000 ($70,000) from businessman James Packer.
“I never worked for Arnon Milchan on this or any other issue,” he said.
Several actions he took that related to Milchan’s business interests actually hurt his friend, he said.
And while he did try to help Milchan sort out his US visa, this was because Milchan had lost it because of activities — an apparent reference to clandestine intelligence work — he had undertaken on behalf of the state of Israel. It would have been unthinkable “to abandon” somebody in that situation, Netanyahu said. Indeed, it was his “obligation as prime minister” to help.
Addressing the second case, the prime minister denied helping Mozes and said he opposed the so-called Israel Hayom bill he had allegedly promised Mozes he would support.
It was “a world turned upside down,” said Netanyahu, that he was investigated for opposing the legislation while most of the 43 MKs who supported it were never probed.
Netanyahu noted that he disbanded the government in late 2014 and called fresh elections to prevent passage of the bill, which would have hamstrung circulation of the rival newspaper, known for being close to the prime minister.
Netanyahu said he was confident that the prosecution would recognize that the police recommendations to indict him are without foundation, that “the truth will out,” and that his government will see out its term. He vowed to continue to “advance Israel as a rising power.” And he said that, provided “I win your support,” he intended to continue to lead Israel after the next elections too.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.