Police recommend charging Israeli PM Netanyahu with bribery

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Israeli police have recommended that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two corruption investigations against him. A final decision will be made by the attorney general.

The recommendation follows a months-long investigation into lavish gifts from wealthy businessmen and an alleged deal which would have provided Netanyahu with favorable news coverage in the country’s largest newspaper.

“Upon conclusion of the investigation, the position of the Israel Police is that a sufficient evidentiary basis has been established to establish suspicions against the prime minister for the offenses of bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” police said in a statement.

Netanyahu, speaking on late Tuesday in an address to the nation, vowed to stay on as prime minister despite the recommendation to charge him. He said the accusations were baseless and added that he had always worked to protect and defend the country, not to receive gifts or favorable news coverage.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will make the final decision on whether to charge Netanyahu.

In the first case, Netanyahu is accused of accepting gifts from two wealthy friends – Israeli-born Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer – in return for political favors. None of them dispute the gifts, but Netanyahu claims the expensive cigars, champagne, jewelry and concert tickets were tokens of friendship.

The second case involves Arnon Mozes, the owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth media group, which owns the country’s largest newspaper. Netanyahu is accused of having told Mozes that he would seek to end free distribution of the media group’s rival newspaper in return for favorable news coverage.

Police have also recommended bribery charges against both Mozes and Milchan. Investigators say the value of gifts given by Milchan was estimated to be about 750,000 Israeli shekels ($212,000), with the frequency of gifts increasing “significantly” after Netanyahu took office as prime minister.

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