Spotlight: Netanyahu to be charged with corruption on eve of Israeli tight elections

Source: Xinhua| 2019-03-01 07:03:25|Editor: Yamei
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters in his Jerusalem office, on Feb. 28, 2019. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday blasted the decision by the attorney general to charge him with corruption as a left-wing "conspiracy." (Xinhua/JINI)

by Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- Israel's Attorney General announced on Thursday that he decided to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for corruption.

The announcement came weeks before Israelis head to a general election in which Netanyahu is running for re-election.

According to the decision of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, the Israeli prime minister will be entitled to a hearing before the final decision.

It is the first time a sitting prime minister in the country will be indicted. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned before being indicted for corruption charges. Olmert was found guilty and served a prison sentence for over a year.

The announcement on Netanyahu came two years after the launch of the investigations and is expected to add fuel to an already tumultuous election period.

Israeli police already recommended months ago that Netanyahu be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different cases, before he categorically denied the allegations.

Netanyahu, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term as Israel's prime minister, said the decision is a result of pressure on Mandelblit from his political opponents.

So far, the Likud party led by Netanyahu has steadily led the polls. Many political analysts have speculated that no major effect will be expected on the polls and Netanyahu's road to victory is secure.

Still, chances of the indictment being quashed are minimal, as the indictment decision is made based on months of police investigations and legal examinations.

"I intend to serve you as prime minister for many more years," Netanyahu said in a televised statement, hours after the decision was announced.

"I will refute every single allegation," he added.

According to Israeli law, Netanyahu is not required to resign until a final verdict, which may take years, is reached.

Meanwhile, leaders of right-wing political parties immediately released statements of support for Netanyahu.

"This might motivate more Netanyahu supporters to come to the polls," said Yonatan Freeman of the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"The fact that he has explained the situation as an attack by the left ... might motivate people who believe someone is out to oust Netanyahu not through the polls," he added.

One of Netanyahu's main rivals, former Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, said "Israel cannot have a part-time prime minister," urging him to step down immediately.

With this uphill battle, Netanyahu is now finding himself in the middle of his most critical political battle which will determine the fate of his premiership.