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Israeli Police Recommend Corruption Charges Against Prime Minister Netanyahu


Israeli police announced today that they're recommending prosecutors charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery and corruption. They accuse him of making illegal deals with a couple of wealthy foreign backers and with a newspaper publisher. Netanyahu denies the allegations and vows to stay in office. We're joined now by NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Hey there.


SHAPIRO: This is a recommendation. It's not a charge. So what does the police announcement mean exactly?

ESTRIN: It does not mean that Netanyahu is indicted for corruption - not yet, at least. It means that the police have completed their investigation, and they believe there is enough evidence to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. So now prosecutors have to take a look at the case, and then the attorney general is the one who has the final say whether to indict Netanyahu. And the bottom line here is that the whole process could take months and maybe even a year.

SHAPIRO: Bribery, fraud and breach of trust - what exactly do police say Netanyahu did here?

ESTRIN: They say that for a decade, up until 2016, Netanyahu got about $282,000 worth of gifts in the form of cigars, champagne and jewelry from two businessmen - from an Australian businessman who is Mariah Carey's ex-fiance and also from Arnon Milchan, who is an Israeli Hollywood producer. He produced "Pretty Woman." And police say Milchan bribed Netanyahu and his family, and in exchange, allegedly Netanyahu helped him by asking the State Department to renew his U.S. visa and also tried to get the Hollywood producer a tax break in Israel. So that's the first case. And then the second case is that Netanyahu told a newspaper publisher in Israel that he would help undercut his competition in exchange for good press coverage in this newspaper.

SHAPIRO: Interesting cast of characters there.


SHAPIRO: Netanyahu spoke about this on TV minutes before the police statement. What did he say?

ESTRIN: Netanyahu said he was speaking from his heart to the people of Israel, and he said everything he does is for the best interest of the country. He said, how could I do these things in exchange for cigars and positive press? So he specifically refuted some of the specific claims, and he also said that the lead police investigator in this case has a personal bias against him. He pointed out that the police recommendations here don't necessarily lead to indictments. And he's right. In fact, during the 1990s, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted, and prosecutors didn't pursue the case.

SHAPIRO: Do you think he can survive this politically?

ESTRIN: That's the big question. Tonight, already some lawmakers in his party have come to his defense. But Netanyahu holds a very slim majority in the Parliament or in his coalition. And if his coalition partners turn against him here, it could lead to new elections. And then Netanyahu's political future really would be uncertain.

SHAPIRO: There were elections not that long ago in Israel. This coalition government is relatively young.

ESTRIN: It is. And, you know, in Israel, coalitions fall very easily. And so, you know, this could be the thing that does Netanyahu in.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin speaking with us from Jerusalem. Thank you very much.

ESTRIN: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.