Israeli PM Claims Corruption Charges Are An "Attempted Coup"
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed the several corruption charges levelled against him are an "attempted coup" against his leadership.
Netanyahu has been charged with breach of trust and fraud in all three corruption cases against him, as well as bribery in one of the investigations, according to a charge sheet released by the Justice Ministry.
The most serious of the allegations is that Netanyahu promised policies that would benefit telecommunications giant Bezeq in exchange for favourable media coverage on the Walla! news site.
Netanyahu has also been accused of accepting $387,888 worth of gifts such as champagne and cigars for political favours and changing regulatory frameworks to benefit a media group for positive press coverage.
The decision announced by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Friday was the first of its kind against a serving Israeli prime minister and represented Netanyahu's gravest crisis of his political career.
Netanyahu refused to resign before blasting investigators in a 15-minute speech on Friday, claiming the corruption allegations were "false" and "politically motivated".
What is going on here is an attempt to stage a coup against the prime minister.
"The object of the investigations was to oust the right-wing from government," Netanyahu said.
In a Facebook post, Netanyahu maintained his innocence and called for the investigators to be "investigated".
"I will fight and I will not let the lies win," he wrote.
The conservative leader has been in power since 2009 and is the country's longest-serving leader.
The opening of a trial could be delayed for months by a new election and any moves by the right-wing prime minister to seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution.
Earlier, during one of the most unusual days in Israeli political history, the country's president told MPs to name a candidate to form a new government after Netanyahu and centrist Benny Gantz both failed, a development that could set the stage for a third election within a year.
"These are harsh dark days in the annals of the state of Israel," President Reuven Rivlin said as he announced Gantz had not mustered enough support for a stable coalition.
Police recommended in February Mandelblit file criminal charges against Netanyahu in the long-running investigations dubbed Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000.
Netanyahu could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum three-year term for fraud and breach of trust.
The corruption allegations were not enough to dissuade most allies from banding together with Netanyahu in coalition negotiations, effectively blocking Gantz's path.
The prolonged stalemate comes at a tricky time for Israel and its most prominent statesman.
Its conflict with arch-rival Iran has deepened after Israeli warplanes hit Iranian targets in Syria on Wednesday.
Tensions have flared in the region after rockets were fired by both Israel and Palestine last week following Israel's assassination of a Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza.
The introduction of criminal charges could further complicate the eventual roll-out of the US administration's long-delayed Middle East peace plan by imperilling the political future of one of the key players.
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