Investigators want Netanyahu charged

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Ten months after Benjamin Netanyahu was tossed out of office, police are uring the attorney general to charge him with accepting bribes and illegally keeping hundreds of gifts that should have been turned over to the state.

Netanyahu has been under investigation for the past seven months and the recommendations were likely to deal a serious blow to his possible political comeback plans.

Some 100 investigators worked on the case, and at one point searched Netanyahu's home, office and a warehouse he used. Among the items reportedly stored there were candlesticks, silverware, candelabras, carpets, pictures, scarves and a gold letter opener that was a gift from U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Netanyahu described the allegations as "baseless", and accused police of acting in bad faith.

"This was a tendentious investigation whose outcome was known ahead of time,"

The former prime minister joins a parade of top Israeli officials embroiled in scandals.

President Ezer Weizman is being investigated over large sums of money he received from a French millionaire. Prime Minister Ehud Barak's campaign financing is under police scrutiny. Transport Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, a onetime contender for prime minister, is on leave amid allegations he sexually assaulted a young employee. And the spiritual leader of the ultra-religious Shas party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, could face charges of incitement for calling a Cabinet minister Satan, among other epithets.

In the Netanyahu case, investigators recommended that he be charged with fraud, attempted misuse of state funds, breech of trust and obstruction of justice, police said in a statement. Netanyahu's wife, Sarah, should be charged with theft and attempted misuse of state funds, the statement said. Two senior Netanyahu aides face related charges.

It is up to the state attorney to decide whether to put the Netanyahus on trial.

Police once before recommended that Netanyahu be indicted - in 1997, when he was still prime minister. At issue was the appointment of a Netanyahu crony as attorney general. Israel TV said at the time the appointment was made to set the stage for a plea bargain for Arieh Deri, then a key coalition partner accused of corruption.

Prosecutors said at the time that the evidence against the prime minister, while raising "bewildering questions," did not suffice for criminal charges.

Netanyahu has not spoken publicly about possible comeback plans, but he reportedly has been asked by those opposing an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the expected price for a peace treaty with Syria, to lead their campaign. Despite his crushing defeat by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Netanyahu has retained a loyal following and, if deciding to return to politics, could likely claim a leading role in the opposition Likud Party.

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