Israel police recommend corruption charges against Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been prime minister for nine straight years, and his family have become embroiled in a series of scandals in recent months. (AP)
Updated 14 February 2018
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Israel police recommend corruption charges against Netanyahu

JERUSALEM: Israeli police on Tuesday recommended that Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on bribery and breach of trust charges in two corruption cases, dealing an embarrassing blow to the embattled prime minister that is likely to fuel calls for him to resign.
Netanyahu angrily rejected the accusations, which included accepting nearly $300,000 in gifts from two billionaires. He accused police of being on a witch hunt and vowed to remain in office and even seek re-election.
“I will continue to lead the state of Israel responsibly and loyally as long as you, the citizens of Israel, choose me to lead you,” an ashen-faced Netanyahu said in a televised address. “I am sure that the truth will come to light. And I am sure that also in the next election that will take place on time I will win your trust again, with God’s help.”
The recommendations marked a dramatic ending to a more than yearlong investigation into allegations that Netanyahu accepted gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer, and suspicions that he offered to give preferential treatment to a newspaper publisher in exchange for favorable coverage.
The recommendations now go to Attorney General Avihai Mendelblit, who will review the material before deciding whether to file charges. Netanyahu can remain in office during that process, which is expected to drag on for months.
But with a cloud hanging over his head, he could soon find himself facing calls to step aside. During similar circumstances a decade ago, Netanyahu, as opposition leader, urged then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign during a police investigation, saying a leader “sunk up to his neck in interrogations” could not govern properly.
In the immediate aftermath of the police announcement, reactions quickly fell along partisan lines.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a bitter rival of Netanyahu, called on him to suspend himself and for the coalition to appoint a replacement on Wednesday morning.
“The depth of corruption is horrifying,” Barak said. “This does not look like nothing. This looks like bribery.”
But key members of Netanyahu’s Likud Party rallied behind him. Cabinet Minister Miri Regev said she was “not excited” by the police recommendations and urged patience while the attorney general reviews the case.
She said the biggest surprise was that Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party, had been a witness. David Amsalem, another Netanyahu confidant, called Lapid a “snitch.”
Lapid later issued a statement calling on Netanyahu to resign.
“Someone with such serious accusations against them, many of which he does not even deny, cannot continue to serve as prime minister with responsibility for the security and well-being of Israel’s citizens,” Lapid said.
In a statement, police said their investigation found sufficient evidence to indict Netanyahu in the first case, known as File 1000, for accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.
It said Netanyahu had accepted gifts valued at 750,000 shekels ($214,000) from Milchan, and 250,000 shekels ($71,000) from Packer. The gifts from Milchan reportedly included expensive cigars and champagne.
Police said that in return, Netanyahu had operated on Milchan’s behalf on US visa matters, legislated a tax break and connected him with an Indian businessman. It said he also helped Milchan, an Israeli producer whose credits include “Pretty Woman,” “12 Years a Slave” and “JFK,” in the Israeli media market.
In the second case, known as “File 2000,” Netanyahu reportedly was recorded asking Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Yediot Ahronot daily, for positive coverage in exchange for promoting legislation that would weaken a free newspaper that had cut into Yediot’s business.
Police said there was sufficient evidence to charge both Milchan and Mozes with bribery.
Channel 10 TV read a statement that it said came from Milchan’s “defense team” saying the bribery charge would not stand. It said his relationship with Netanyahu went back to the early 2000s, before he became prime minister, and that the men and their families were friends.
There was no immediate comment from Packer or Mozes.
Netanyahu is one of President Donald Trump’s biggest supporters on the global stage, and the police recommendations threaten to weaken Netanyahu as the White House works to prepare a Mideast peace proposal.
In his TV address, Netanyahu said that his entire three-decade political career, which included serving as Israel’s ambassador to the UN, a previous stint as prime minister in the 1990s and a series of Cabinet posts, was meant only to serve the Israeli public.
He acknowledged aiding Milchan with his visa issues, but said Milchan had done much for Israel and noted that the late Shimon Peres had also been close with Milchan.
He also said that over the years he had taken decisions that hurt Milchan’s business interests in Israel.
“How can allegations be taken seriously that in exchange for cigars I acted for Arnon Milchen’s benefit?” he said.
He said all the allegations over the years against him had one goal: “to topple me from government.”
He said past scandals had all “ended with nothing” and “this time as well they will end with nothing.”
As the police investigation gained steam in recent months, Netanyahu has claimed to be a victim of an overaggressive police force and a media witch hunt.
Netanyahu, who has been prime minister for nine straight years, and his family have become embroiled in a series of scandals in recent months.
Recordings recently emerged of his wife, Sara, screaming at an aide, while separate recordings caught his eldest son, Yair, on a drunken night out at a series of Tel Aviv strip clubs while traveling around in a taxpayer-funded government car with a government-funded bodyguard. The younger Netanyahu ended up spending the night in a luxury Tel Aviv apartment owned by Packer.
Netanyahu has said the scandals are all the work of media out to get him.


Assad backs down over law to seize refugee homes

Updated 18 October 2018
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Assad backs down over law to seize refugee homes

  • ‘Law 10’ withdrawn, UN humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland says
  • The law was a major impediment to the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who fled their homes

BEIRUT: The Assad regime has withdrawn a law that allowed authorities to seize property left behind by civilians who fled the war in Syria, the UN humanitarian aid chief in the country said on Thursday.

Under Law 10, Syrians had 30 days to prove that they own property in redevelopment zones in order to receive shares in the projects, otherwise ownership was transferred to the local government.

The law was a major impediment to the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who fled their homes. Regime officials have insisted the law would not result in the confiscation of property, but was aimed at proving and organizing ownership to combat forgery of documents in opposition-held areas.

Jan Egeland, who heads aid issues in the office of UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, said he had been told of the decision to withdraw the law by Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s key military ally.

“When Russia says that it is withdrawn and there were mistakes made ... it is good news,” Egeland said. “Hopefully this will now be reality on the ground. So diplomacy can win — even in Syria.”

Syrian politician Mohammed Kheir Akkam said the law had issued by presidential decree and he knew of no decree to abolish it. “These claims are not true so far,” he said.

Nevertheless, Syrian refugees across the border in Lebanon welcomed reports that the law had been withdrawn. “We have not heard the news yet, but this is an excellent move,” Abu Mohammed, who is from Al-Qusayr and is the former head the water department in Homs, told Arab News. 

“This move reflects the goodwill of the Syrian regime toward its displaced people abroad. Their discourse is no longer an escalation against us, but an attempt to re-establish trust between Syrian citizens and the Syrian regime.”

Khalid Melhem, from Qalamoun, said the withdrawal of the law was “a gesture of goodwill, on which trust can be built.”

Melhem, an interior designer in Syria, now lives in a tent in Arsal and works as a house painter.  “I own a 300-square-meter house in Damascus, but the authorities demolished it and acquired the land. I could not return to Syria to prove my ownership of the house because they want to lure me into the country and arrest me.”

The regime acquired the property, 600 meters from the barracks of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, in 2017. “They demolished all damaged houses surrounding the barracks and prevented anyone from approaching the property except for a few Alawites, who were allowed to rebuild and reclaim their homes,” Melhem said.