Netanyahu trumpets his innocence as investigations against him proceed

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proclaimed his innocence Wednesday night in a video posted on social media, while at the same time acknowledging local media reports that police are set to recommend his indictment in an ongoing graft probe.

Addressing the investigation into him, Netanyahu said, “Qualified legal experts will arrive at one conclusion of the simple truth. There is nothing.”

This latest dismissal of the accusations against him, which have seen him questioned at least seven times in the investigation, echo his oft-repeated statement: “There will be nothing because there is nothing.”

Referencing the media reports, broadcast on Israeli television Wednesday evening, of an imminent police recommendation to indict, the Prime Minister sought to reassure his Facebook fans that he knew exactly how things would unfold: “The recommendations will come. Signs that read ‘Netanyahu is guilty until proven innocent’ will come. There will be improper pressure; that will also come.”

Dismissing the chance that he would step down if police recommend an indictment, Netanyahu said, “half the recommendations from police end in nothing.’

Case 1000 and 2000

Netanyahu, currently serving his fourth term as Prime Minister, has been named as a suspect in two separate criminal investigations, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. The cases involve allegations of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, according to police.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of having received gifts from businessmen overseas, including cigars for himself and champagne for his wife, Sara. The case has focused primarily on Netanyahu’s relationship with billionaire Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, though the investigation has expanded to include other wealthy businessmen with ties to Netanyahu.

In Case 2000, police have been investigating conversations Netanyahu had with Arnon Mozes, the owner of one of Israel’s leading newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth, which is regularly critical of the Prime Minister.

In the conversations, transcripts of which have been leaked in the Israeli media, Netanyahu allegedly discusses limiting the circulation of Yedioth Ahronot’s major competitor in favor of more favorable coverage. Both Netanyahu and Mozes have said they were not serious discussions; rather, they each claim they were trying to expose the other’s lack of trustworthiness.

A third case, known as Case 3000, has entangled many in Netanyahu’s inner circle, but the Prime Minister has not been named a suspect in the case, which involves Israel’s purchase of submarines from Germany.

Perhaps the biggest blow to Netanyahu came last summer when his former chief of staff, American-born Ari Harow, agreed to testify against him. Harow, who served under the Prime Minister when he was elected in 2009, agreed to provide evidence in both cases. As part of the deal, Harow agreed to plead guilty of committing fraud and breach of trust in an entirely separate case.

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee, has been accused of dragging his feet on the investigations. Mandelblit has insisted they will progress at their own pace, free from outside influence. Anti-corruption protests in Tel Aviv have become more common, and thousands of demonstrators have called on Netanyahu to step down.

As well as regularly protesting his innocence, the Prime Minister has frequently gone on the attack, railing against the media, police, the courts and his political opponents on the left, accusing them all of trying to topple the government because, he says, they can’t beat him in an election.

Decision rests with attorney general

Even after police issue any possible recommendation to indict, it will be up to Attorney General Mandelblit to decide whether to follow that recommendation.

In Netanyahu’s first term as Prime Minister in the late ’90s, police issued a recommendation to indict in two different graft probes. In both cases, the attorney general at the time decided there was not sufficient evidence for an indictment.

Netanyahu has predicted the same outcome this time.

Even if the attorney general does eventually choose to indict, Netanyahu would not need to step down under Israeli law. Only if he is convicted — and once any such conviction is upheld throughout the appeals process — would Netanyahu be forced to resign. However, he could face tremendous public and political pressure to step down long before that.