(AFP) — Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted on a range of corruption charges Thursday, potentially spelling an end to his decades-long political career.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit “decided to file charges against the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for offences of receiving a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust,” a justice ministry statement said.
Netanyahu, who strongly denies all the charges, becomes the first Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office.
Rightwinger Netanyahu, who is nicknamed “Mr Security” and “King Bibi” and has been in power since 2009, is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and dominates the country’s political scene.
The indictment comes as Israel faces a potential third election in a year, with neither Netanyahu nor his main rival able to form a government after two deadlocked elections.
Netanyahu is not legally required to resign until he is convicted and all appeals are exhausted, but political pressure is likely to be intense.
A close ally of US President Donald Trump, the 70-year-old may now ask the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, to grant him immunity from prosecution.
The charges against him range from receiving gifts worth thousands of dollars to a deal to change regulatory frameworks in favour of a media group in exchange for positive coverage.
Mandelblit said it was a “hard and sad day” for Israel to indict a leader but it was an “important” one as it showed no Israeli was above the law.
“The citizens of Israel, all of us, and myself, look up to the elected officials, and first and foremost — to the prime minister,” Mandelblit said.
He said the decision had been made with a “heavy heart, but also with a whole heart.”
“Law enforcement is not a choice. It is not a matter of right or left. It’s not a matter of politics.”
He stressed that Netanyahu was innocent until proven guilty.
Netanyahu was expected to respond later Thursday evening.
The justice ministry said copies of the charge sheet had been sent to both Netanyahu’s lawyers and the Knesset.
A perennial fighter, Netanyahu has outlived many political rivals and Hugh Lovatt, Israel-Palestine analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the indictment may still not be “the end of the story”.
“Israel will now have to brace for a political roller-coaster ride over the coming months. Now more than ever Netanyahu will be fighting for his political and personal life.”