Top ally indicates he will not abandon PM despite police recommendations

As law enforcement backs criminal charges against Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon says ‘only the attorney general can decide to file an indictment’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at a special cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 11, 2018. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at a special cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 11, 2018. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)

A top political ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated Tuesday he was in no hurry to dissolve the ruling coalition after police recommended indicting the premier on corruption charges, saying “only the attorney general” could rule on whether the prime minister should stand trial.

“The law states that only the attorney general can make decisions regarding filing or not filing an indictment,” Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the Kulanu party leader, wrote on his Facebook page.

Addressing the heated responses to the investigation across the political spectrum, Kahlon called “on everyone — on the left and the right — to stop attacking the police and the legal system,” which he said must be allowed to operate “in an orderly, professional and levelheaded manner.”

The main opposition party, the Zionist Union, said Tuesday that Netanyahu should resign immediately or be forced out by his coalition partners.

“The police recommendations are clear, tough and decisive,” it said in a statement. “After nine years of Netanyahu, the public deserves a new leadership and a clean, honest prime minister.”

Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay predicted “the end of the Netanyahu era.”

Zionist Union party Avi Gabbay seen during a faction meeting at the Israeli parliament on February 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Ilan Gilon of the left-wing Meretz party tweeted that the recommendations cast a “heavy shadow” over Netanyahu and his ability to function and make decisions, while Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint (Arab) List, said “Netanyahu is a corrupt and dangerous prime minister” and “must go home.”

But senior Likud MKs echoed Netanyahu’s claims that the accusations were part of an attempted putsch to bring him and his government down.

Coalition head David Amsalem said in a statement police had marked a “target” and done everything to “hit it” in “an illegitimate process.” Tourism Minister Yariv Levin described the recommendations as “a contemptible move to stage a government coup against the will of the voter.” Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud), said she was neither surprised nor excited by the recommendations, “which have no legal validity.”

Netanyahu himself dismissed the police recommendations as slanderous, “unfounded” and “outrageous.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacts to the Israel’s Police recommendation he be indicted for bribery in a pair of criminal investigations on February 13, 2018. (Screen capture: Facebook)

The recommendations include indictments for bribery in both Case 1000 and Case 2000, as they have been dubbed. A decision to press formal charges against the veteran premier now rests with the attorney general’s office, which is expected to take months to decide how to proceed.

Police said that in Case 1000, they have concluded “that there is sufficient evidence against the prime minister on suspicions of the offense of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust regarding his connection with businessman Arnon Milchan and fraud and breach of trust in connection with the Australian businessman James Packer.”

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, amounting to some NIS 1 million ($282,000) worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Milchan and Australian resort owner Packer.

In Case 2000, police are recommending prosecuting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal with 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.

In addition to charging Netanyahu, police also recommended indicting Milchan and Mozes, saying that “there is sufficient evidence that suspicions of bribery were committed” by all three.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks at a meeting in the Knesset on December 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

As the recommendations and detailed allegations were published, new bombshell reports said the ostensible key witness against the prime minister in one of the cases is his political rival, former finance minister Yair Lapid.

Lapid reportedly provided evidence that the prime minister pushed to extend a law that gave his benefactors millions of dollars in tax breaks.

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.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a Knesset event honoring Israel’s police force, January 5, 2018. (Yitzhak Harari/Knesset)

The process could last many months, with Channel 10 speculating that it could even be a year before any moves are made by Mandelblit: the recommendations must first be examined by State Prosecution teams and then by State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, before being handed to Mandelblit — a procedure that could easily last around seven months.

If Mandelblit leans toward indicting the premier, Netanyahu still has the right to a hearing before any final decision is made, which could add another five months to the process before a potential indictment is actually filed.

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