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Police recommend bribery charges for Netanyahu, wife in telecom graft probe

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018.
AP Photo/Oded Balilty, Pool
Netanyahu denied the allegations shortly after the police announcement

Israeli police on Sunday recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara for bribery and other offenses, the third such recommendation against the premier in recent months, in a case centered on allegations of regulatory benefits granted telecommunications giant Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage from a related media company.

The case, dubbed "Case 4,000" to differentiate it from a slew of other investigations into the affairs of the prime minister and his inner circle, centers on allegations that Netanyahu made concessions benefiting Bezeq's controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive media coverage of him and his wife Sara on Elovitch's popular news website Walla.

The "main suspicion is that the PM took bribes and acted in a conflict of interest by intervening and acting in regulatory decisions that favor Shaul Elovitch and the Bezeq Group," police said in a statement on Sunday morning.

Netanyahu "bluntly intervened, sometimes on a daily basis, with the content being published on the Walla news website, and sought to influence the appointment of senior employees (editors and reporters), while using their ties to Shaul and Iris Elovitch," police added.

Police said there was evidence to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud, breach of trust and unlawful acceptance.

They recommended Sara Netanyahu face charges of bribery, fraud, breach of trust and obstruction of evidence.

Police have recommended Elovitch also be charged for his role in the alleged bribery scheme.

Amit Shabi, Yedioth Ahronoth, Pool via AP

Netanyahu flatly denied the allegations, saying they have "no legal standing" and noting the conspicuous timing of their publication in the midst of turmoil surrounding his coalition which has only a razor-thin, one-seat parliamentary majority.

"The police's recommendations regarding me and my wife are not surprising, nor is the transparent timing of their publication," Netanyahu said in a statement issued by his office.

"Police recommendations have no legal status," he added, noting that authorities had recently rejected police recommendations against a number of other public figures in separate cases.

"I am sure that even in this case the competent authorities, after examining the matter, will reach the same conclusion -- that there is nothing because there was nothing."

But opposition lawmakers pounced on the recommendations and renewed calls for snap elections.

"The people of Israel deserve clean leadership. Elections now," parliament opposition leader Tzipi Livni wrote on twitter.

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

Police in February recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in two other corruption probes dubbed “Case 1,000” and “Case 2,000”.

In “Case 1,000” -- in which police allege Netanyahu accepted around 1 million shekels ($280,000) worth of luxury gifts from a number of wealthy benefactors in exchange for favorable government treatment -- Hefetz reportedly provided investigators with names of additional patrons seemingly strengthening suspicions that the exchanges were methodical.

In “Case 2,000” -- which centers on an alleged arrangement with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes to limit circulation of the newspaper's main rival in exchange for more favorable coverage -- Hefetz reportedly provided investigators with the names of additional figures involved in mediating the alleged arrangement.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied the allegations in all cases, saying he is confident that the Attorney General will find nothing because “there is nothing to find."

The three cases involving the long-serving premier have led to speculation over whether he will eventually have to step down.

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