JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted Thursday in a series of corruption cases, throwing Israel’s paralyzed political system into further disarray and threatening his 10-year grip on power. He rejected calls to resign, angrily accusing prosecutors of staging “an attempted coup.”
The first-ever charges against a sitting Israeli prime minister capped a three-year investigation, with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit indicting Netanyahu for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes.
“A day in which the attorney general decides to serve an indictment against a seated prime minister for serious crimes of corrupt governance is a heavy and sad day, for the Israeli public and for me personally," Mandelblit, who was appointed by Netanyahu, told reporters.
The indictment does not require the 70-year-old Netanyahu to resign, but it significantly weakens him at a time when Israel’s political parties appear to be limping toward a third election in under a year.
An ashen-faced Netanyahu appeared on national TV late Thursday, claiming he was the victim of a grand conspiracy by police and prosecutors who had intimidated key witnesses into testifying against him.
He defiantly claimed the indictment stemmed from “false accusations” and a systematically “tainted investigation,” saying the country was witnessing an “attempted coup” against him.
“Police and investigators are not above the law,” he said. “The time has come to investigate the investigators.”
Netanyahu is desperate to remain in office to fight the charges. Under Israeli law, public officials are required to resign if charged with a crime. But that law does not apply to the prime minister, who can use his office as a bully pulpit against prosecutors and try to push parliament to grant him immunity from prosecution.