Israel's attorney general has announced his decision to indict Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges. Netanyahu called the indictment an "attempted coup" and said he will continue to lead.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted on corruption charges in three separate cases, the country's attorney general announced on Thursday.
An official statement from Israel's Justice Ministry said that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had "decided to file charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for offences of receiving a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust."
Mandelbit called the indictment a "heavy-hearted decision" that was based purely on legal evidence.
Responding in a televised press conference Thursday evening, Netanyahu denied the accusations, classifying them as "false", "politically motivated", and an "attempted coup". He said he will continue to lead Israel.
"They weren't after the truth, they were after me," he said of investigators.
The decision makes Netanyahu the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office.
While widely expected, the indictment creates even greater uncertainty around the future of Israel's government. Both Netayanhu and centrist rival Benny Gantz have independently failed to form a governing coalition since taking part in national elections in September.
The country has been without a government for nearly 12 months and now faces the unappealing prospect of its third election within that same time period.
Following the announcement, rival Gantz said the prime minister has "no public or moral mandate to make fateful decisions."
10 years in prison
Netanyahu has previously denied any wrongdoing and said he will not step down as prime minister if charged. He has been in power since 2009 and is Israel's longest-serving prime minister.
While only a conviction requires him to resign, the indictment raises pressure on him to do so now.
The prime minister minister is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from rich friends and, in the most serious incident, of passing regulation that favored a telecommunication company owned by a friend in exchange for positive media coverage. Similarly, Netanyahu's wife was fined in June for misusing public funds.
If convicted, the PM faces up to 10 years in prison on bribery charges and up to 3 years for fraud and breach of trust.
Shot at immunity
Mandelbit had announced in February that he would seek to indict Netanyahu on corruption charges. He decided the case following four days of legal testimony presented in October.
It may be months before the cases are heard in court. Potential new elections could delay the trial as could the possibility that Netanyahu pressures parliament to grant him immunity.
However, without a functioning government, the prime minster would not have a functioning parliament available to consider his case.
kp/aw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)