Explainer: Why is Israel's Netanyahu facing trial?


  • World
  • Wednesday, 20 May 2020

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a speech at his Jerusalem office, regarding the new measures that will be taken to fight the coronavirus, March 14, 2020. Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A week after being sworn into office for a fifth term, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will go on trial on May 24, charged with corruption.

WHAT ARE THE CHARGES AGAINST NETANYAHU?

Bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu, 70, was indicted in three criminal cases last November. He denies all wrongdoing.

CASE 4000 alleges that Netanyahu granted regulatory favours worth around 1.8 billion shekels (about $500 million) to Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq Telecom Israel .

In return, prosecutors say, he sought positive coverage of himself and his wife on a news website controlled by the company's former chairman, Shaul Elovitch.

In this case, Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Elovitch and his wife, Iris, have been charged with bribery and obstruction of justice. The couple deny wrongdoing.

CASE 1000, in which Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust, centres on allegations that he and wife Sara wrongfully received almost 700,000 shekels worth of gifts from Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood producer and Israeli citizen, and Australian billionaire businessman James Packer.

Prosecutors said gifts included champagne and cigars and that Netanyahu helped Milchan with his business interests. Neither Packer nor Milchan face charges.

CASE 2000 alleges that Netanyahu negotiated a deal with Arnon Mozes, owner of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, for better coverage. In return, the prime minister allegedly offered legislation that would slow the growth of a rival newspaper. Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust. Mozes has been charged with offering a bribe, and denies wrongdoing.

WHAT DOES NETANYAHU SAY?

Netanyahu says he is the victim of a politically orchestrated "witch hunt" by the media and the left to oust him from office.

Loyalists in Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party have accused the justice system of bias, and Netanyahu has said receiving gifts from friends was not against the law.

His legal team says criminal investigations into relations between politicians and the news media threaten press freedom.

WILL A VERDICT COME SOON?

Unlikely. The trial could take years. Netanyahu could also seek a plea deal rather than go through the trial process.

COULD NETANYAHU GO TO JAIL, IF CONVICTED?

Bribery charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine. Fraud and breach of trust carry a prison sentence of up to three years.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Timothy Heritage)

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