Corruption Investigations Threaten Netanyahu’s Political Future

With Sara Netanyahu’s recent indictment, investigations into the Israeli Prime Minister and his family are picking up steam.

By Abby White

Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu greet President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania

On June 21, 2018, Israel’s attorney general indicted Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, on charges of systematic fraud and breach of trust. The charges come amid separate, monthslong investigations into alleged illegal conduct by Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife.

In the indictment, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan allege Sara Netanyahu and Ezra Saidoff, a former aide in the Prime Minister’s Office, spent nearly $100,000 of state money between 2010 and 2013 hiring chefs to cook private meals. Those expenses would violate an accounting procedure which forbids the prime minister’s residence from spending state money on private meals while they employ a full-time cook. The charges also accuse Sara Netanyahu and Saidoff of falsifying household financial and staffing records to cover up the improperly spent money.

Sara Netanyahu’s lawyers have countered by calling the accounting procedure she allegedly violated “illegal,” having been drafted just days before Prime Minister Netanyahu took office in 2009 “by three officials who were unauthorized to do so.” The lawyers added that the prime minister’s wife, “who is not a public servant, does not know the regulations, and passed a polygraph test when she was asked about this.”

Meanwhile, investigations continue into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The police have questioned Prime Minister Netanyahu ten times in the past 18 months in connection to three separate cases, alleging attempts to obtain more favorable coverage and accepting illicit gifts for favors.

The most recent case, deemed Case 4000 by the Israeli media, alleges Prime Minister Netanyahu was involved in passing regulatory decisions benefiting Bezeq, Israel’s biggest telecommunications company, in exchange for positive coverage on Walla, a popular news site owned by Bezeq’s then-main shareholder, Shaul Elovitch. Elovitch and his son and daughter-in-law resigned from the Bezeq board in February.

In February, the police recommended charging Prime Minister Netanyahu with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust for two other cases, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. In Case 1000, Netanyahu allegedly demanded benefits worth about $282,000 over several years from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors. Case 2000 alleges the premier plotted with Arnon Mozes, who owns the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, in 2014 to advance legislation that would have hurt Mozes’ main business rival in exchange for more positive coverage in Yedioth.

The prime minister has been questioned, but is not a suspect, in Case 3000, regarding the purchase of submarine and naval vessels from a German shipbuilder.

The corruption investigations into Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife have raised questions about his political future. Although Netanyahu has been in power on and off since 1996, spending ten of those years as prime minister, analysts and scholars believe the investigations may have made him newly vulnerable. Aluf Benn, editor of the left-leaning Ha’aretz, even wrote optimistically that the police’s indictment recommendations in February marked the beginning of “the countdown to the end of [Netanyahu’s] political life.”

However, the premier has indicated he will not admit guilt or lose his position without a fight. And survival — through corruption allegations in the 1990s; a sometimes-strained relationship with the U.S., Israel’s most powerful ally; and international condemnation of his policies in the Palestinian territories — might be the premier’s most potent political skill.  

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