Cigars, jewelry and pink champagne: Netanyahu's and his wife's penchant for luxury is no secret. But now Israel's head of government is taking the process - it is about luxury gifts and the allegation of illegal interference with the media.
Jerusalem (dpa) - For the first time in Israel's history, an incumbent prime minister is on trial. To kick off the sensational corruption process, Benjamin Netanyahu (70) has to appear in person before the three judges of the Jerusalem District Court this Sunday afternoon.
The indictment should be read on the first day of the trial. There are three cases. Prosecutors accuse Netanyahu of fraud, unfaithfulness and bribery. Other people have been charged with him. Three key witnesses - former close employees - are said to testify against Netanyahu. The head of government denies all allegations.
Netanyahu is Israel's longest serving prime minister. He was sworn in again just last Sunday. His fifth term is extremely controversial due to the corruption process. Critics fear that he could try to prevent a conviction by systematically weakening the judicial system and changing the law.
Netanyahu would only have to resign if the sentence was final. It could take several years until then. If convicted of bribery, Netanyahu faces up to ten years in prison. If convicted of fraud and infidelity, the maximum sentence would be three years in prison.
Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) law professor Juval Schani said of Netanyahu's indictment: "It is truly an unprecedented case in Israel that an incumbent head of government is on trial." Netanyahu's image in court will be very symbolic, he believes.
Ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former President Moshe Katzav had already been sentenced to prison, but they each resigned before the indictment. "Now we have this extraordinary situation in which Netanyahu refuses to resign and the electorate has resigned himself to the fact that he is being tried while he rules," says Schani.
The prime minister is suspected of granting benefits to telecommunications giant Bezeq as communications minister. According to the indictment, Netanyahu had a "give and take" corruption relationship with majority shareholder Schaul Elovitsch and made this profit of 1.8 billion shekels (473 million euros) possible. In return, the medium "Walla", which belongs to the group, reported positive about Netanyahu. In this case, the Attorney General assumes bribery, fraud and infidelity.
"It's not just about influencing the reporting, but about complete editorial control of the website by Netanyahu and his people," says Amir Fuchs from the Israeli Democracy Institute. They had decided in detail which post should appear, which pictures. It is "not just positive reporting, but absolute control" of the country's second most important news site.
Netanyahu is also suspected of having accepted luxury gifts worth around 700,000 shekels (184,000 euros) from friends of the billionaires - jewelry, cigars and pink champagne.
In addition, he is said to have offered the critical newspaper publisher Arnon Moses to weaken his rival newspaper in return for positive reporting. He is also said to have ordered negative coverage of political rivals.
Regarding Netanyahu's fight in court during his tenure, Schani says: "It is fundamentally extremely problematic if the executive chief is a defendant who fights very aggressively to weaken the authorities who are prosecuting him." All of Netanyahu's decisions as head of government could now appear in doubtful light. "If we have a war now, is it because of a real threat or because it wants to distract public opinion?" Netanyahu is currently conducting a dangerous "crusade against the judicial system," says Schani.
His defense will cost Netanyahu a lot of time in addition to his office as head of government, said the law professor. "And there is also the psychological aspect - an indictment means a lot of stress." In addition to the process, Netanyahu also has to deal with the Corona crisis. In addition, annexation plans in the occupied West Bank could lead to greater political tensions with the Palestinians and Israel's neighbors.
Based on his new elephant government with a majority of 73 of the 120 MPs in parliament, Netanyahu is combative. The 70-year-old vehemently rejects all allegations against himself. Before the first session of his new government, he said, "I don't think these ridiculous accusations will leave one stone unturned." He described the process as a "joke".
Prosecutor General Avichai Mandelblit said with a heavy heart in November that Netanyahu should be charged with fraud and infidelity and corruption. There have been multiple death threats against him since then.
Numerous witnesses are to be interviewed in the trial against Netanyahu, including the billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the chairman of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), Ron Lauder, the Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and the Australian entrepreneur James Packer. Springer boss Mathias Döpfner also appears in the indictment as one of more than 300 witnesses.
In 2008, Netanyahu, as leader of the opposition, urged the then head of government Ehud Olmert to resign when he was suspected of corruption. The allegations of corruption had ended Olmert's political career. Following a conviction, Olmert was sentenced to 19 months in prison in February 2016; however, he was released three months earlier.
Information from the Israeli Democracy Institute on Netanyahu's trial