Netanyahu’s Corruption Charges in Israel: What to Know

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Benjamin Netanyahu will make a remarkable comeback as Israel’s prime minister after general elections, and the concession on Thursday of the current leader, Yair Lapid, put his right-wing bloc on a glide path to victory. But looming over his return is the unfinished business of the State of Israel v. Benjamin Netanyahu, a long-delayed felony corruption case.

Mr. Netanyahu, who faces a litany of bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges, has denied all accusations, vociferously attacking those who seek to prosecute him. The trial put Israel into uncharted territory, dominating political life and fueling a debate about the state of Israeli democracy and the country’s legal system.

Now, with his comeback as prime minister apparently assured, Mr. Netanyahu has said that he will not use his authority to upend the legal process in his corruption trial. But some of his coalition partners have signaled a different plan.

Here’s where the case stands.

The investigations into Mr. Netanyahu’s conduct began in 2016, when the authorities pursued claims that the prime minister had a habit of performing official favors for wealthy businessmen in exchange for gifts both material and intangible.

Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, was accused of grabbing up cigars and Champagne, and bracelets, bags and luxury clothes for his wife; disrupting investigative and judicial proceedings; and even demanding fawning coverage by two leading Israeli news outlets.

In February 2018, the police formally recommended that he be prosecuted. In November 2019, he was indicted, and the trial began in May 2020. The Jerusalem District Court made its way through a list of more than 300 witnesses. But the trial, originally expected to last a year or more, has been delayed several times for various reasons, including once when a central witness cited “personal reasons” in 2021, another time because of coronavirus restrictions, and again in February this year, when the judge in the case tested positive for Covid.

The corruption trial combines three separate cases, known as Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000. (Mr. Netanyahu was cleared in a fourth case, Case 3000, which concerned the government’s procurement of German-made submarines.) Mr. Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, is also said to have received gifts but is not a defendant in the trial.

One court is hearing all three cases at once, instead of one after the other, slowing down the prospect of a verdict any time soon.

In Case 1000, Mr. Netanyahu is accused of accepting nearly $300,000 in gifts from 2007 to 2016 from the Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and the Australian billionaire James Packer. In return, prosecutors say, the prime minister acted on Mr. Milchan’s behalf, including pressuring the Finance Ministry to double the duration of a tax exemption for expatriate Israelis like the producer after they return to the country from abroad. The indictment also accuses Mr. Netanyahu of lobbying the U.S. government to help Mr. Milchan renew his American visa and assisting with a merger deal involving a TV channel partly owned by Mr. Milchan.

Mr. Packer is not accused of receiving anything in return for his gifts, and he and Mr. Milchan — who are not on trial — have denied wrongdoing.

In Case 2000, Mr. Netanyahu allegedly discussed a quid pro quo arrangement in 2014 with Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Yediot Aharonot, one of Israel’s leading newspapers. Under the deal, the indictment says, Mr. Netanyahu was to receive supportive coverage from the paper. In exchange, he is accused of agreeing to consider enacting legislation that would curb the strength of Israel Hayom, a rival newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson, a supporter of Mr. Netanyahu. But Mr. Netanyahu is not accused of following through on that promise. Mr. Mozes, also on trial, has denied any wrongdoing.

In Case 4000, prosecutors claim that from 2012 to 2017, a telecom mogul named Shaul Elovitch and his wife granted favors to Mr. Netanyahu and his family in the hope that Mr. Netanyahu would not obstruct the Elovitches’ business interests. Mr. Elovitch is alleged to have repeatedly allowed Mr. Netanyahu and his family to shape the coverage of his news website, Walla. The Elovitches, who are on trial, deny wrongdoing.

Few sitting national leaders have stood trial on criminal charges over their official acts. Mr. Netanyahu was Israel’s first. But he was not legally obliged to step down: Israeli prime ministers can remain in office until they are convicted of a crime.

Mr. Netanyahu addressed the nation live on television in 2018, shortly before the police released their findings, saying, “I feel a deep obligation to continue to lead Israel in a way that will ensure our future.”

He continued: “You know I do everything with only one thing in mind — the good of the country. Not for cigars from a friend, not for media coverage, not for anything. Only for the good of the state. Nothing has made me deviate, or will make me deviate, from this sacred mission.”

To some, his decision not to resign was evidence of a dangerous selfishness. Other analysts said that Mr. Netanyahu’s decision not to step aside when indicted, as his predecessors Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Olmert had done when under investigation, was a national badge of shame and exposed a grave weakness that could become more critical the longer the trial lasted.

But to Mr. Netanyahu’s supporters, the trial was proof of a deep conspiracy against him.

If convicted, Mr. Netanyahu could be sentenced to several years in prison. But some of his far-right coalition partners, who were celebrating the electoral victory even before Mr. Lapid conceded, may offer crucial assistance in keeping him out of jail.

They have said they will push to legalize one of the crimes he is accused of committing — or even to end the trial entirely.

The man who long ago earned the nickname the Magician for his uncommon knack for political endurance has proved his ability to sidle out of harm’s way — or at least delay severe consequences.

When he arrived at the courthouse in East Jerusalem on a Sunday in 2021, Mr. Netanyahu pleaded not guilty, but not before delivering a fiery speech denouncing the case against him.

He called the trial “an attempt to thwart the will of the people, an attempt to bring me and the right down.” He accused the police, the prosecution and “left-wing newspapers” of colluding against him but said he would not be cowed.

“They don’t mind if some sort of obedient right-wing poodle comes instead, but I am not a poodle,” he declared.

David M. Halbfinger, Gabby Sobelman and Isabel Kershner contributed reporting.


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