Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu 'to be charged over corruption'

Rabbi Meir Kahane at the Knesset

Rabbi Meir Kahane at the Knesset

Israel's attorney general announced on Thursday that he plans to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, in a move that could upset the upcoming Israeli elections in April.

It's a major blow to the long-serving premier and Trump ally, though not a final decision on an indictment.

The final decision on indictment will only take place after a hearing, where Mr Netanyahu is given the opportunity to defend himself. He is seeking a renewed mandate from the people in the April 9 election and has indicated that he intends to remain in office while pursuing a legal battle.

This would be the first time an Israeli Prime Minister has faced criminal charges while in office. Netanyahu has built his rule on an unmatched skill at political maneuvering, preferring coalitions with nationalist and religious parties when possible, but gravitating toward more moderate alliances when politically expedient. "The presumption of innocence is reserved for every person, including the prime minister". The details of the accusations are well-known.

U.S. President Donald Trump, asked at a news conference earlier on Thursday about Netanyahu's legal troubles, voiced support for the Israeli leader.

He also faces fraud and breach of trust charges in that case.

The charges include bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and the PM will be given the chance to appeal before they are filed. The deal never went through.

Bribery charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine.

CASE 1000 alleges that Netanyahu wrongfully received gifts from Arnon Milchan, a prominent Hollywood producer and Israeli citizen, and Australian billionaire businessman James Packer, including champagne and cigars. He called a press conference for Thursday evening. The hearing date has not yet been made public.

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Mr Netanyahu, 69, has denied any wrongdoing in the three long-running corruption investigations against him.

"This entire house of cards will collapse."

He's accused Mandelblit of caving to pressure from the left and the left-wing media to rush to announce charges before the elections. A recent poll from Haifa University shows about half of the public doesn't have much trust in the attorney general. But they've also indicated that a decision to charge the prime minister could potentially swing the balance of power in a tight race against the centrist Blue & White bloc headed by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz and ex-Finance Minister Yair Lapid.

Police have said their investigation concluded that Mr Netanyahu and Mr Elovitch engaged in a "bribe-based relationship".

A senior Likud official told Ynet that, "Netanyahu is mainly concerned with ending this campaign with an election victory, and besides that he is working on how to form the next coalition".

The non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute called on Netanyahu to "carefully consider" what's best for Israel.

Mr Mandelblit's decision could either galvanise Mr Netanyahu's hardline supporters who see him as a victim of an overzealous prosecution or turn more moderate backers against him who have exhausted of his lengthy rule tainted by long-standing accusations of corruption and hedonism.

Israel's attorney general says he has chose to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a series of corruption charges.

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