Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem. Picture: Abir Sultan /Pool photo via AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem. Picture: Abir Sultan /Pool photo via AP

Netanyahu seeks immunity from prosecution in corruption cases

By Sara Lemel und Stefanie Jaerkel Time of article published Jan 2, 2020

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Tel Aviv - Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested immunity from prosecution in the face of corruption charges on Wednesday.

The 70-year-old sent a letter to parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein seeking immunity in the three criminal cases against him.

However the request is ultimately decided, it is sure to delay the start of Netanyahu's trial until after March's general election, the third time Israelis will go to the polls in less than a year.

In a speech Wednesday evening, Netanyahu noted that the immunity would be temporary as it lasts only as long as the legislative term. He also slammed the investigation and said he would eventually prove his innocence.

"I want to lead Israel for many more years to achieve historical successes," he said.

Netanyahu's main rival, ex-military chief Benny Gantz of the Blue and White alliance, spoke of a "sad day for Israel." He accused Netanyahu of only being interested in his own personal fate and not in the future of the state of Israel. "Netanyahu knows that he is guilty."

The Justice Department charged Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust late last year.

It is the first time in the history of Israel that an incumbent prime minister has been charged. Netanyahu has spoken of a coup attempt and sharply criticized Israel's judiciary. He accused the police of putting witnesses under pressure.

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had sent the indictment against Netanyahu to the president of the parliament on December 2. After that, Netanyahu had 30 days to apply for immunity, which ran out on Wednesday.

Without the immunity request, the indictment could have been filed with the competent court in Jerusalem. With the immunity application, however, the process is now on hold.

The political limbo in Israel is complicating matters.

After two parliamentary elections, no new government was formed in 2019 due to a stalemate, meaning the Knesset has only been able to act to a limited extent.

Under normal circumstances, a parliamentary committee would have to decide on the immunity issue and then a vote would take place in the full Knesset.

Amir Fuchs, from the Israel Democracy Institute, says there is currently no parliamentary majority to set up such a committee. But without the committee, there would be no further steps in the Netanyahu trial.

A third election is scheduled for March 2. "Most likely there will be no house committee until the government is formed after the election," Fuchs said.

After two deadlocked elections, Netanyahu wants to finally secure a majority of 61 of the 120 members of the Knesset and achieve a fourth consecutive term as prime minister.

The allegations against Netanyahu relate to suspicions that he attempted to influence the media, made crooked deals with companies and accepted luxury gifts from businessmen friends in return for political favours.

Before the April 2019 general election, Netanyahu said during a television interview that he would not seek immunity.

According to a poll by Israeli television, 51 per cent of Israelis are against the request for immunity, while only 33 per cent support the move.

Faced with criticism that he wanted to shirk responsibility, Netanyahu said on Sunday: "Immunity is not against democracy; immunity is a cornerstone of democracy."

If convicted of bribery, Netanyahu faces up to 10 years in prison. If convicted of fraud and breach of trust, the maximum sentence would be three years in prison.

dpa

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