Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will stand trial on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, the country’s attorney general Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday. The trial is expected to begin mid next year.

The indictment against Netanyahu comes after three years of investigations that looked at allegations of him accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts from wealthy businessmen, and trading favor with media houses in exchange for favorable coverage.

Netanyahu denied wrongdoing, accusing his opponents of waging a legal witch hunt.

“It’s time to investigate the investigators, and the prosecution that authorizes these tainted investigations. I won’t let lies prevail,” he added.

In a televised statement, Prime Minister Netanyahu called the indictment an “attempted coup,” saying the timing of the announcement “highlights how much this decision is tainted by extraneous considerations, aiming to bring down a right-wing Prime Minister.” Israel’s longest-serving prime minister vowed to “continue leading this country,” dismissing media speculations of him stepping down in the face of the charges.

The news website Times of Israel reported the details of the indictment:

In a decision that drastically shakes up Israeli politics amid already ongoing chaos, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be charged with criminal wrongdoing in three separate cases against him, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe.

The decision marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister faces criminal charges, casting a heavy shadow over Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, and his ongoing attempts to remain in power.

According to the full indictment released by the Justice Ministry, Netanyahu will be charged with fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, the state prosecution said in a statement.

The announcement comes at a time when the country is in an electoral deadlock. Netanyahu and his main rival, former army chief of staff Benny Gantz, have failed to forge a coalition despite two consecutive elections this year. The country may be drifting towards a third election, Israeli newspapers speculate.

The current political stalemate could also delay a formal indictment against the prime minister by half a year, Times of Israel explained. “[D]ue to the current political deadlock it will probably take several months before he can even formally file the charges in court, the news outlet noted.

The final verdict could take years, and might depend on whether Netanyahu “tries to draw it out as long as possible to delay his conviction to stay in office,” the Jerusalem Post noted.

The legal battle engulfing the Israeli political scene coincides with a surging campaign of terror against the country. Earlier this month, Iran-backed terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fired hundreds of rockets over Israel. Despite the Iron Dome air defense system’s 90-percent success rate, rockets from Gaza managed to hit residential areas, shutting down businesses and forcing a million Israeli kids to stay home in southern and central Israel. Iran’s proxy Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon and the growing Iranian military presence in neighboring Syria pose a grave security threat to the Jewish state.

[Cover image via YouTube]

 
 
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