JERUSALEM -- Israel's attorney general on Monday officially submitted his indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges, laying out a sweeping case in which over 300 people, including a number of well-known billionaires, could be called to testify.
But in a break for Netanyahu, the parliament's legal adviser issued an opinion that could buy the prime minister several months to seek immunity from the Knesset and delay trial. The ruling raised the likelihood the country will be heading to elections for the third time in under a year.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced on Nov. 21 that he was charging Netanyahu with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. It is the first time in Israeli history that a sitting prime minister has been charged with a crime. On Monday, he formally submitted the indictment to the speaker of parliament.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and has claimed he is the victim of an "attempted coup" by overzealous police investigators and prosecutors.
The charges against Netanyahu include accepting some $200,000 in gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires, Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.
Netanyahu is also accused of offering to push legislation that would benefit the publisher of a major newspaper in exchange for positive news coverage and promoting regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to a friend and telecom magnate in exchange for favorable coverage on the Israeli company's popular news site.
Mandelblit's indictment listed 333 potential witnesses, including Milchan and Packer, as well as U.S. casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a longtime supporter of Netanyahu, and Oracle Corp. co-founder and chairman Larry Ellison.Gallery: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem
Two Israeli elections held this year ended in deadlock, with neither Netanyahu nor his main rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, able to secure a parliamentary majority or agree on a power-sharing rotation. If the sides cannot reach a compromise by Dec. 11, parliament will be dissolved and the country would be forced to vote again in March.
The indictment has thrown Israel into an unprecedented legal situation. Although Israeli law requires Cabinet ministers and other public officials to resign if charged with a crime, that law does not apply to sitting prime ministers.
By submitting his letter to parliament's speaker, Mandelblit began an official 30-day window for Netanyahu to ask parliament for immunity.
Late Monday, the parliament's legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, said that any request for immunity would have to be considered by the legislature's "House Committee."
The current caretaker government does not have such a committee, and it appears unlikely that it will appoint one before the Dec. 11 deadline.
That means that if Netanyahu submits an immunity request, it will likely be ruled upon only after new elections and formation of a new government that appoints a committee.
A Section on 12/03/2019
Print Headline: Netanyahu indicted on corruption charges