Israeli police press for fraud charges against Netanyahu

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The Independent Online

After a seven-month inquiry, police in Israel recommended yesterday that the former prime minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu should be indicted on corruption charges, including fraud and accepting bribes.

They also recommended that charges be brought against Mr Netanyahu's wife, Sara, amid allegations that the couple illegally kept hundreds of gifts given to the premier in his official capacity.

The Israeli attorney general's office will now decide whether to proceed with the case - a move that would plunge Israel into another scandal when it is already overburdened with sleaze allegations in very high places.

If the case goes to full trial, it could be one of Israel's biggest courtroom sagas involving a senior politician since the case brought against Yitzhak Rabin's wife, Leah, in 1977, over a relative technicality - illegally holding a foreign bank account.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Netanyahu said the claims were baseless. "This was a tendentious investigation whose outcome was known ahead of time," he said. His lawyer, Yaacov Weinroth, told Israel Radio that they were "itching for a trial" as it would prove the falsity "onceand for all" of the allegations.

The threat of the courtroom has loomed over Mr Netanyahu before. In 1997, a case against him involving claims of cronyism was dropped. But this time, the suggested charges are starker, centring on the bald allegations of corruption for personal gain. If found guilty, he could face a prison term of 16 years.

A clutch of other sleaze cases is simmering away, including investigations of the President, Ezer Weizman, for accepting cash gifts; the Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, for large-scale campaign finance violations; the Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, for sexual assaulted of an employee; and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, a key member of Mr Barak's shaky coalition, for criminal incitement.