Israel’s attorney general has praised a police investigation into the prime minister over corruption allegations, saying it was conducted “thoroughly” and “by the book” even as the Israeli leader has shrugged off its conclusions. In a speech at Tel Aviv University, Avihai Mandelblit yesterday lauded the more-than-yearlong probe into a pair of corruption scandals that have engulfed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, culminating this week when police recommended that he be indicted on bribery and breach of trust charges in both cases.
The recommendations now go to Mandelblit, who will review the material before deciding whether to file charges. “The investigations were carried out by the book, exactly as is expected by law enforcement authorities to deal with cases like these: professionally, thoroughly, creatively and with sophistication, with the aim to get to the truth,” he said. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing and has called the police recommendations, which said he accepted nearly USD 300,000 in gifts from two billionaires, among other allegations, “biased, extreme, full of holes, like Swiss cheese.” Netanyahu has accused the police of being overly aggressive in their probe and his supporters in parliament have bashed the police, claiming they were orchestrating a coup d’etat.
Mandelblit said he intends to ignore the noise and plans to make a decision based on the evidence. The police recommendations dealt an embarrassing blow to the Israeli leader but they do not yet threaten his lengthy rule. Immediate reaction fell along partisan lines, an indication that his coalition will stand behind him for now. He can remain in office while Mandelblit makes his decision, a process which could take months. Netanyahu has vowed to remain office and even seek re-election.
Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee, did not say when he expects to make his decision. However, noting the significance of the case, he said he plans to conduct the process without “unnecessary delays.” Netanyahu is accused of receiving lavish gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. In return, police say Netanyahu had operated on Milchan’s behalf on US visa matters, legislated a tax break and connected him with an Indian businessman. In the second case, Netanyahu is accused of offering to give preferential treatment to a newspaper publisher in exchange for favourable coverage.