07:03 GMT +310 December 2019
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    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves after addressing members of his right-wing party bloc at a conference in Tel Aviv, Israel November 17, 2019. REUTERS/Nir Elias

    Despite Looming Indictment, Netanyahu Could Stay Until Final Verdict - Israeli Criminal Law Expert

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    Hundreds of right-wing activists took to the streets of Petah Tikva in central Israel on Monday evening to protest what they are describing as unlawful conduct by the country's prosecution aimed at bringing down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblitt will announce whether to indict PM Benjamin Netanyahu on a series of graft charges. The announcement is expected as early as next week, but Kobi Sudri, one of Israel's leading experts on criminal law, believes the legal battle may stretch out for an unknown amount of time.

    "First of all, it is still possible that the AG will decide not to indict Netanyahu. It will raise a lot of eyebrows in Israel but it is still an option, and, secondly, even if he does decide to go ahead with the indictment, the process might take months," he said in a telephone interview.

    According to the Israeli law, and unlike in the case of an ordinary citizen, in which an indictment lands on the desk of a police clerk, an indictment against a prime minister must be approved by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, which could grant him immunity.

    "The only problem is that Israel doesn't have a functioning parliament, so chances that it will make any decisions, especially on such a paramount matter as [the] prime minister's indictment, are low," stated Sudri, referring to the ongoing struggle by Blue and White chief Benny Gantz to form a government.

    However, if the Knesset grants Netanyahu immunity, the premier will not only escape trial but will also be able to keep his post.

    Here to Stay

    Under Israeli law, the prime minister can remain in power as long as there is no verdict in his case. "Legally speaking, Netanyahu can stick to his post. But from a moral point of view, it is highly problematic for a prime minister to stay in power amid legal battles," noted Sudri.

    In 2008, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert chose to step down amid mounting pressure over corruption allegations. Netanyahu, however, has vowed to stay, calling the many scandals surrounding him and his family a "house of cards" that will eventually fall apart.

    Convincing the public won't be easy. In September, Israel's channel 12 released a survey showing that 59 percent of those asked wanted to see Netanyahu leave office if Mandelblitt pressed charges, with only 28 percent suggesting that the premier keep his job.

    Nor will it be easy to make Mandelblitt change his mind. "The most dangerous case for Netanyahu is the Bezeq-Walla affair," said Sudri, referring to a case in which Netanyahu is accused of of buying favorable media coverage for himself and his wife in exchange for tax evasion by Shaul Elovich, the telecommunication giant's owner.

    Despite the fact that Netanyahu is not the only politician using his power to reap positive media coverage, with Olmert having been shown to have done this on a number of occasions, Sudri believes Netanyahu has crossed the line.

    "It is one thing for you to ask for positive coverage, but it is a completely different thing to be deeply involved in the editorial line, dictating the rules of the game and suppressing reports that are critical of you and your family," observed Sudri, who added that the choice is now Mandelblitt's.

    Netanyahu is expected to be indicted in a series of graft probes that include buying positive press and receiving expensive gifts from a rich donor in exchange for tax favors - allegations that Netanyahu denies.

     

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