Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, attorney general says

PHOTO: In this Feb. 21, 2019 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in Ramat Gan, Israel.PlaySebastian Scheiner/AP, FILE
WATCH Benjamin Netanyahu faces corruption charges

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, the country's attorney general said Thursday.

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Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit recommended the long-serving prime minister be indicted in three cases, a result of lengthy investigations into Netanyahu's alleged dealings.

In one case, Netanyahu is alleged to have received expensive gifts from two businessmen -- including a Hollywood producer -- in exchange for favors. Mandelblit recommended charging Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust in what has been dubbed "Case 1000."

PHOTO: In this Nov. 8, 2015 file photo, Israels Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with then Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, FILE
In this Nov. 8, 2015 file photo, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with then Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

In "Case 2000," Netanyahu is alleged to have made a deal to limit the distribution of one newspaper for more favorable coverage in another; the attorney general recommended charging him with breach of trust for that allegation.

In a third case, called "Case 4000," Netanyahu allegedly intervened with regulators and advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister between 2015 and 2017. That allegedly benefitted the controlling shareholder of Israel's largest telecommunications firm in exchange for favorable coverage on a news site belonging to that shareholder.

Mandelblit recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery and breach of trust in "Case 4000."

The prime minister will be allowed a pretrial hearing to mount his defense and try to sway the attorney general; it could take months for the hearing to happen.

It is rare, though, for an attorney general to reverse a decision.

PHOTO: In this Feb. 21, 2019 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in Ramat Gan, Israel. Sebastian Scheiner/AP, FILE
In this Feb. 21, 2019 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in Ramat Gan, Israel.

The announcement comes just 40 days before a legislative election in Israel. Mandelblit resisted considerable political pressure from Netanyahu, who had called the election early and pushed for any announcement about indictment recommendations to come after the election.

Netanyahu on Thursday night responded to Mandelblit's announcement, saying his political rivals on the left had been conducting a "witch hunt" the past several years with the intention of toppling his right-wing government and installing a leftist one. He called the timing "scandalous."

"They applied forceful and continuous pressure, inhumane pressure, on the attorney general so the attorney general would say that he considers charging me, even when it is clear there is nothing," Netanyahu said.

"The main thing is to influence the results of the elections, even when they know this card tower will come tumbling down after the elections," he added.

Netanyahu's Likud Party had mounted a last-minute appeal to Israel’s High Court Thursday to block the announcement, but the court rejected the appeal.

In the wake of the recommendation, a political challenger to Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, called on the prime minister to resign.

"Unfortunately today, you chose a path that isn’t befitting a prime minister of Israel," Gantz, a retired military chief, said. "Instead of choosing the good of the country - you chose your own well-being. It’s the wrong choice and one we must not be a part of."

Israel's Labor Party also called for Netanyahu's resignation, although the right and most of Netanyahu's government coalition partners largely stood by him.

The attorney general made his recommendation nearly three months after Israeli police and the Israeli Securities Authority recommended indicting Netanyahu on counts of bribery, breach of trust and fraud. It was then up to Mandelblit as to whether to move forward.

Investigators examined years of Netanyahu's alleged illicit dealings with associates.

Two of the cases center on Netanyahu alleged pursuit of positive press coverage.

In "Case 4000," he is alleged to have benefitted from a relationship with Shaul Elovitch, a controlling shareholder in a holding group that owns Israel's largest telecommunications company, Bezeq, and its subsidiary Walla Communications, which operates a news portal.

The attorney general alleged that Netanyahu demanded and received favorable coverage for him and his family -- while his rivals got the opposite -- while Elovitch profited handsomely from Netanyahu's personal involvement as prime minister and minister of communications to the tune of half a billion dollars.

"Case 2000" deals with Netanyahu's alleged relationship with Arnon Mozez, the publisher of Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot and the popular news site ynet. Netanyahu allegedly agreed to promote legislation that would put limits on the distribution of the competing, free daily paper Israel Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage by Mozez's outlets, according to the attorney general.

In the third case, "Case 1000," the attorney general said Netanyahu allegedly received gifts from Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer -- given, allegedly, as a result of Netanyahu holding the prime ministership.

Milchan allegedly gave cigars, champagne and jewelry totaling close to $130,000, in exchange for Netanyahu advancing Milchan's financial interests in Israel and helping him get a U.S. visa, according to the attorney general.

Packer, meanwhile, allegedly gave an estimated $63,000 worth of gifts addressed to Netanyahu's wife Sara, "in a continuous manner, in various ways and numerous times," according to Mandelblit.

ABC News's Jordana Miller contributed reporting from Jerusalem.