Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Tuesday filed an indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Jerusalem District Court, on three separate charges of corruption.
The move came shortly after the prime minister, who is in Washington for the roll out of Donald Trump's Mideast peace plan, withdrew his request for parliamentary immunity from prosecution for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
This is the first time in Israel's 71-year history that a sitting prime minister has been indicted. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert resigned before the charges that ultimately led to a prison sentence could be brought against him.
A spokesperson for the Justice Ministry said that once a member of Knesset rescinds his immunity request, he must be treated like any other citizen, requiring the ministry to immediately file the indictment with the court.
Mandelblit announced his decision to indict Netanyahu on November 21, 2019. In his comments on the indictment at the time, Mandelblit said he arrived at the conclusion with a heavy heart.
"All of Israel's citizens, including myself, look up to our elected officials and foremost the prime minister, and view them as our democratically elected leaders," he said.
Netanyahu slammed the November decision as an attempt at a "government coup," calling the allegations made against him false.
The prime minister also criticized the police and prosecution, claiming the public had lost faith in those institutions.
The indictments relate to three separate investigations, known as Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000 (Case 3000, which related to the purchase of German submarines by the Israeli Navy, did not lead to charges against the prime minister).
The most serious charges are connected to Case 4000 and include bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu is accused of passing regulations that gave telecom magnate Shaul Elovitch benefits worth over $250 million to his company Bezeq. In return, Bezeq's news site, Walla, published favorable articles about Netanyahu and his family. Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris have also been charged with bribery.
Netanyahu is also charged with fraud and breach of trust in Case 2000, in which the prime minister and Yedioth Ahronoth and Ynet owner Arnon Mozes allegedly discussed mutual assistance to promote one another's interests during private meetings that began in 2009 and lasted for several years. Mozes has been charged with bribery over the affair.
Case 1000 also involves charges of fraud and breach of trust, in which Netanyahu's gifts of champagne from billionaires Arnon Milchan and James Packer turned into a sort of supply line.
The indictment said Netanyahu assisted the Israeli Hollywood mogul Milchan with extending his U.S. visa. It was not immediately clear what, if anything, Packer received in return.
Associates of the prime minister on Tuesday slammed the timing of the indictment as well as the charges, saying it was aimed at overshadowing Netanyahu's presence in Washington as U.S. President Donald Trump unveils his peace plan.
"If anyone else had any doubt that there was obsessive persecution of Prime Minister Netanyahu, they now have yet more clear evidence of this," the associates said.
"The eagerness to file the baseless indictment against the prime minister was so great that they could not wait even one day until the end of the historic summit in Washington, one of the most important [events] in the history of the state."
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett echoed this message, saying: "Netanyahu is in Washington for an historic event, why is the prosecution is such a hurry to humiliate him?"
First published: 14:38 , 01.28.20