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Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicted on bribe and fraud charges

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statem
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the media in Tel Aviv, Israel Feb. 21, 2019. -
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Ammar Awad
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Israel's attorney general announced Thursday that his office had indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges after a two-year investigation.

The prime minister faces one count of bribery and two counts of fraud and breach of trust.

Police have previously recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different cases.

Police recommended an indictment in the case based on evidence collected that confidants of Netanyahu promoted regulatory changes worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Bezeq. In exchange, they believe Netanyahu used his connections with Elovitch to receive positive press coverage on Bezeq's popular subsidiary news site, Walla. Police have said their investigation concluded that Netanyahu and Elovitch engaged in a "bribe-based relationship."

Police also recommended charges be brought against Elovitch, members of his family and members of his Bezeq management team.

Police have previously recommended indicting Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases. One involves accepting gifts from billionaire friends, and the second revolves around alleged offers of advantageous legislation for a major newspaper in return for favorable coverage.

Netanyahu, 69, who is serving his third consecutive term as prime minister and his fourth overall, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and called the various allegations against him a witch hunt aimed at removing him from office.

The attorney general's decision to publish his conclusions 39 days prior to the general election on April 9 is raising questions about what impact it can have on the outcome of the vote.

Israeli media reported Thursday that with just hours to go before Mandelblit's anticipated decision to indict Netanyahu, his Likud Party filed a petition to the Supreme Court to stop the announcement from happening before the election on the grounds that it would unfairly impact on Netanyahu's prospects of re-election. However, the court's spokesperson confirmed later in the afternoon that the petition was rejected.

The indictment marks the first time in Israeli history that a sitting prime minister has been charged with a crime.

Legal experts in Israel say it could take up to a year for a hearing process into the charges to end and an additional two years for a court case to be heard.

While Israeli prime ministers are not required by law to resign if charged, the prospect of a prime minister standing trial while simultaneously running the country would be unchartered territory.

President Donald Trump, with whom Netanyahu has forged a close connection, said "[Netanyahu's] done a great job as prime minister" in response to a question in Hanoi, where he was holding a summit with the leader of North Korea.

"He's tough, he's smart, he's strong," Trump said of the Israeli leader, but didn't comment on the indictment.

Netanyahu rushed back Wednesday from a diplomatic mission to Moscow, and a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, to prepare for his expected rebuttal to the charges on Thursday.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is Netanyahu's former cabinet secretary.

While nostrangerto scandal, this was the first time Netanyahu faced the possibility of being formally charged with a crime.

Netanyahu and his family's luxurious lifestyle — often at taxpayers' expense — has come under scrutiny before. Nearly six years ago, Netanyahu was criticized for reportedly spending $127,000 in public fundsfor a special sleeping cabin for a five-and-a-half hour flight to London for Margaret Thatcher's funeral. That came just months after the Netanyahu family's taxpayer-funded food budget included $2,700 for artisanal pistachio and French vanilla ice cream.