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Netanyahu calls charges 'baseless' after police accuses him of corruption

IANS/Jerusalem 14 Feb 18 | 02:37 PM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting in India

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hit back after the police said there was enough evidence to indict him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases.

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Speaking on Israeli television soon after the allegations came to light on Tuesday, Netanyahu branded them "baseless" and pledged to continue as the country's leader, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

"Over the years, I have been the subject of at least 15 inquiries and investigations. Some have ended with thunderous police recommendations like those of tonight. All of those attempts resulted in nothing, and this time again they will come to nothing," he said.

"I will continue to lead Israel responsibly and faithfully for as long as you, the citizens of Israel, choose me to lead you," the 68-year-old said.

The police in a statement recommended that the Israeli leader should be charged as they had "enough evidence" to indict him. Netanyahu is in his second stint as Prime Minister and has served in the role for a total of 12 years, the BBC said.

In the first case, dubbed by the police "case 1000", Netanyahu allegedly accepted bribery from an Israeli businessman and Hollywood tycoon Arnon Milchan and an Australian businessman, James Packer.

The police said between 2007 and 2016, Netanyahu and his family received expensive cigars, champagne and jewellery worth about a million shekels (about $282,800).

Following his re-election as Prime Minister in 2009, "the scope and frequency of the transfer of goods increased significantly", the police statement said.

In return for the goods, Netanyahu allegedly approached US officials and asked them to extend Milchan's visa to the US. Milchan, the producer of films including "Fight Club", "Gone Girl" and "The Revenant", should face bribery charges, the police said.

Netanyahu also acted to promote a law that gives tax exemption for returning Israeli residents who were living abroad for over 10 years, known as the "Milchan Bill", and helped Milchan to promote his investment in the Israeli media.

In another case, dubbed "case 2000", Netanyahu allegedly received bribes from Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Yedioth Aharonoth, one of Israel's largest newspapers.

The police said Netanyahu and Mozes held talks over an "exchange deal" in which the Israeli leader would receive favourable coverage in Yediot Aharonot in return for promoting a law and other measures that would limit the distribution of Israel Hayom, Yedioth's main rival.

Israel's centre-left opposition alliance, the Zionist Union, called on Netanyahu to resign. But members of his right-wing Likud party defended him.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin called the police statement a "despicable move" to "carry out a government coup".

A final decision on whether Netanyahu should face charges will come down to the Attorney General's office. A decision could take months to reach.

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