Israeli attorney general says he can rule on Netanyahu indictment before election

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to the plenum at the knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s attorney general said on Friday there was no legal reason to prevent him from indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges before an election on April 9, should he decide such a move was warranted.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said his team was examining the case materials and intended to make a decision as soon as possible.

Netanyahu is facing possible charges in three graft cases. He denies any wrongdoing and has called the cases a witch-hunt.

He is favourite to win the election but opinion polls show one of his toughest challengers, former general Benny Gantz, making gains.

Mandelblit said he had informed Netanyahu’s lawyers “there is no impediment to making and publishing a decision, if there is any, to consider filing an indictment in the cases relating to the prime minister, or part of them, subject to a hearing, even before the election date.”

Not doing so, Mandelblit said, would undermine the principles of everyone being equal under the law and the right of the public to know about decisions of such importance.

Netanyahu said on Facebook the attorney general seemed to be “giving in to pressure from the left and the media” to indict him “at any cost, even when there is nothing, as long as it’s before the election.”

Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, has said he would not bow out of the race if Mandelbit announces his intention to accept police recommendations to indict him.

Police say Netanyahu granted regulatory favours to telecommunications company Bezeq Telecom Israel in return for more positive coverage on a news website belonging to the firm’s owner.

In a second case, police contend that Netanyahu received expensive gifts from rich friends. A third investigation focuses on suspicions that Netanyahu negotiated a deal with one newspaper for better coverage in return for promises to back legislation that would have limited the circulation of a rival.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Janet Lawrence)

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