TEL AVIV, Feb 9 — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lashed out at police in a rare attack with detectives reportedly on the verge of recommending his indictment for accepting bribes.
Pressure has built on Netanyahu as police investigating him in the long-running probe reportedly prepare to submit their recommendations to the attorney-general next week.
Israeli media have reported that police are expected to recommend his indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of public trust.
Israeli authorities have refused to comment publicly on the reports.
The attorney-general is expected to take weeks or months to decide how to proceed after receiving the recommendations.
On Wednesday night, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said in an interview with Channel 2 television that detectives probing Netanyahu had been targeted by private investigators to dig up dirt on them.
Netanyahu posted a response on Facebook late Wednesday in which he lashed out at the police commissioner, calling suggestions that he sent private investigators on such a mission “ridiculous”.
“It is shocking to discover that the commissioner has repeated the mistaken and ridiculous suggestion that Prime Minister Netanyahu sent private investigators after the police who are investigating him,” the post said.
He also referred to claims that sexual harassment allegations against the head of the unit investigating Netanyahu were an attempt to smear him because of the graft probe.
“Any honest person would ask himself how people who say such delusional things about the prime minister can objectively investigate him and honestly give unbiased recommendations,” the post said.
“A large shadow was cast tonight over the police investigations and their recommendations related to Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
The investigation has raised the possibility that Netanyahu, prime minister for a total of nearly 12 years, will eventually be forced to resign.
Cigars and champagne
Police are investigating Netanyahu over suspicions that he received expensive gifts, including pricey cigars, from wealthy supporters such as Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.
His wife allegedly received bottles of pink champagne.
The gifts were reportedly worth some tens of thousands of dollars.
They are also probing allegations that he sought a secret deal for favourable coverage with the publisher of top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot.
According to Israeli media, police are expected to recommend the indictments in the first case, but no decision has been made in the second.
Netanyahu has been questioned seven times by police over the allegations.
A separate investigation is also underway in which Netanyahu allies have been questioned by police over the purchase of German submarines.
Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect in the submarine investigation, but the probe has added to the pressure building around him.
The 68-year-old premier has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and says he is being targeted by political opponents. He repeated that in a video posted to Facebook on Wednesday.
He said he was “confident in the fact that at the end of the day, the legal authorities will arrive at the only conclusion possible, the simple truth: There is nothing.”
Netanyahu’s allies have in the past said there is no crime in friends exchanging gifts, but investigators have reportedly arrived at the conclusion that they were in fact bribes.
An indictment alone would not legally oblige Netanyahu to resign, though he would likely face mounting pressure to do so. He would be legally forced to resign if convicted and with all appeals exhausted.
Parliament, however, could also enact a special procedure against him before his case is exhausted if he is found to be guilty of moral turpitude.
Netanyahu’s time as premier is fast approaching Israel’s revered founding father David Ben-Gurion’s 13 years, and he has shown himself to be a shrewd politician.
But an indictment is sure to encourage his political rivals — including those from within his own party — to move against him.
Israel has not shied away from pursuing criminal cases against top politicians.
Ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert resigned from office after police recommended he be indicted for graft. He was freed from prison in July after being granted parole from a 27-month sentence.
He has largely remained out of the public eye since his release, but Israeli media reported that he broke his silence on the Netanyahu case on Wednesday.
“I wish for the prime minister that he end his term quickly and in a seemly manner,” Olmert, also known for his taste for fine cigars, was quoted as saying at an event in Tel Aviv. — AFP