Zionist Union urges election as Netanyahu suspected of bribery
Ari Harow, Israel PM’s former chief of staff, signs state’s witness deal for two cases
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate corruption investigations. Photograph: Amir Cohen/AFP/Getty
Israel’s main opposition party, the Zionist Union, has called for new elections after it was revealed that prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate corruption investigations.
In what was interpreted as a turning point in the investigations, Ari Harow, Mr Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, signed a state’s witness deal on Friday under which he will testify in both cases.
The Zionist Union called on the leaders of the coalition parties to agree to dismantle the government, saying their integrity was at stake.
“Corruption and loss of direction are not questions of right and left but impacts on every citizen. Remaining in the government under these circumstances will make you partners to the corrupt system that Netanyahu has erected during his years in power,” the Zionist Union statement said.
The first investigation – dubbed “case 1,000” – centres on gifts Mr Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, allegedly received from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and other wealthy benefactors.
“Case 2,000” focuses on conversations Mr Netanyahu held with the publisher of the popular Yediot Aharonot newspaper, allegedly discussing an illicit deal by which the paper would soften its anti-Netanyahu line in return for the prime minister using his influence to curtail the activities of Yisrael Hayom, Yediot’s chief competition – owned by American Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a close ally of Mr Netanyahu at the time.
The four-term premier has denied any wrongdoing, blaming the media.
“The witch-hunt to topple the government is in full swing but it is destined to fail because of this simple reason: There will be nothing because there was nothing.”
An Israeli court extended the gag order placed on both investigations, and imposed a gag order on the exact nature of the deal Mr Harow signed with authorities. Israeli media reported that Mr Harow will be sentenced under the deal to six months’ community service, and given a fine of €161,000.
Mr Netanyahu (67) has already been questioned under caution in both graft cases several times.
Los Angeles-born Mr Harrow – a close confident of Mr Netanyahu for more than a decade – agreed to turn state’s witness after police recommended charging him in a separate corruption probe with aggravated fraud, bribery, conspiracy to commit a crime and money-laundering – offences that entail a mandatory prison sentence.
Odelia Carmon, a former aide of Mr Netanyahu’s who worked with Mr Harow, said his decision to turn state’s witness was a “bombshell”.
“He dealt with raising donations, he dealt with the finances, he dealt with state secrets,” she told Army Radio. “So this is not someone Netanyahu can disavow, and I further believe he has everything documented.”
Even if indicted, Mr Netanyahu would not be forced to resign but some politicians suggested that he may declare early elections to show the law enforcement system that he enjoyed the public’s confidence.
A minister from Mr Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, however, said that such a move would project panic, and said most coalition members were opposed to early elections.