JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police on Sunday recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on bribery charges related to a corruption case involving Israel’s telecom giant, prompting immediate calls for his resignation.
Police say their investigation has established an evidentiary foundation to charge Netanyahu and his wife Sara with accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. The case revolves around suspicions that confidants of Netanyahu promoted regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Bezeq telecom company in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister on Bezeq’s subsidiary news website, Walla.
Police have already recommended indicting Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases. One involves accepting gifts from billionaire friends, and the second revolves around alleged offers of advantageous legislation for a newspaper in return for positive coverage.
The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the accusations as a witch hunt orchestrated by the media.
“The police recommendations regarding me and my wife don’t surprise anyone,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “These recommendations were decided upon and leaked even before the investigation began.”
The Bezeq case, known as Case 4000, is the most serious of all those of which Netanyahu has been accused. Two of his top confidants have turned state witnesses and are believed to have provided police with incriminating evidence. Netanyahu held the government’s communications portfolio until last year and oversaw regulation in the field. Former journalists at the Walla news site have attested to being pressured to refrain from negative reporting of Netanyahu.
Police say the investigation, which included the testimony of 60 witnesses, revealed that Netanyahu and Bezeq boss Shaul Elovitch engaged in a “bribe-based relationship.”
From 2012 to 2017 the prime minister and his associates “blatantly intervened” on a near-daily basis in the Walla news site, using the connections with Elovitch to influence appointments there and to promote flattering articles and pictures while quelling critical stories of the prime minister and his family, police said.
Police are also recommending charges be brought against Elovitch and members of his family.
“The most serious bribery case yet leaves no room for doubt: a prime minister who is accused of the most serious offense for a public servant in the Israeli rule book cannot keep serving one minute longer,” said Tamar Zandberg, head of the dovish opposition Meretz party.
“The prime minister has no moral mandate to keep his seat and must resign today. Israel must go to elections.”
Other opposition figures, including opposition leader Tzipi Livni, quickly joined in the call for Netanyahu to resign.
Netanyahu’s colleagues in the ruling Likud party have lined up behind up, attacking outgoing Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh for releasing the recommendation on his last day on the job. The appointment of Alsheikh’s potential successor is being held up after a government-appointed committee rejected his candidacy.
The other coalition partners have previously deferred bolting, saying they would await a formal decision by Israel’s attorney general to press charges. But the latest development further threatens the wobbly government, already weakened by the recent departure of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his party. Netanyahu’s coalition currently enjoys only the slimmest of parliamentary majorities.
Elections are currently scheduled for November 2019.
Police are also recommending that charges be brought against Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, who has been at the center of much of the corruption allegations surrounding the longtime Israeli leader. Reports have surfaced of Sara Netanyahu relaying requests to Bezeq officials.
She has already been charged with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly overspending roughly $100,000 on private meals at the prime minister’s official residence, even as there was a full-time chef on staff.
Sara Netanyahu has long faced allegations of extravagant living and abusive behavior. In 2016, a court ruled she abused an employee and awarded the man $42,000 in damages. Other former employees have accused her of mistreatment, charges the Netanyahus have vehemently denied, and of excessive spending and charging the state for her private, expensive tastes.