Netanyahu Claims Political Motive Behind Police Probe

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says police recommendations that he be indicted on several criminal charges are a deliberate attempt to prevent him from re-entering politics.

After a seven-month investigation, police recommended on Tuesday that Netanyahu face charges of justice, bribery, fraud and breach of trust while in office. They also recommended that his wife, Sarah, be charged with attempted fraud and theft.

But Netanyahu has defended himself in television interviews, saying the accusations against he and his wife were "baseless [and] possibly politically motivated."

"I'm absolutely confident that the attorney general will (close) this case because we did nothing wrong," he said.

Shortly after Netanyahu left office last May, police raided his home, office and a government warehouse where he was storing belongings and found about 700 items - worth approximately $100,000 - which had been official gifts to the Netanyahus while he was in office.

Israeli law requires that official gifts to public servants remain the property of the state. At the time, Netanyahu opened his home to television cameras to show that it was still stacked with boxes, and he claimed that he and his wife had not yet had a chance to sort through their belongings to determine what did or did not belong to them.

In addition, police allege that contractor Avner Amedi, who turned state's witness, rendered $50,000 worth of services to the Netanyahus in exchange for a pledge that he would receive government contracts.

Amedi also billed the Prime Minister's Office for $110,000 worth of services, which included private work for the Netanyahus.

The former director-general of Netanyahu's office, Moshe Leon, and former head of the office's maintenance department, Ezra Seidof, are facing related charges.

Three years ago, Netanyahu also was accused of wrongdoing in what became known as the Bar-On Affair. However, charges that Netanyahu had agreed to appoint an attorney general sympathetic to an embattled political ally in exchange for political support were dropped by Justice Ministry officials.

That episode, too, was said by Netanyahu's allies to have been politically motivated. During his three-year premiership, the Likud prime minister was widely vilified by his political opponents, particularly by left-wingers critical of his handling of the diplomatic process.

Netanyahu, who opposed Prime Minister Ehud Barak in elections just ten months ago, resigned as head of the Likud party and gave up his parliamentary seat after losing the election.

But there have been periodic rumors that Netanyahu would return to once again lead the Likud party - the second largest party in Israel - or form a new political faction of his own.

"I didn't rule out the possibility I would return to politics, and I still haven't confirmed it," Netanyahu said, "But, effectively, this decision is denied me. They are, in essence, deciding to neutralize me politically."

Netanyahu is not the only Israeli public figure currently embroiled in a scandal.

Barak is under investigation for alleged campaign financing irregularities.

President Ezer Weizman has been investigated on charges related to $80,000 in gifts he received from a French businessman - though he will not likely be indicted.

Transportation Minister Yitzhak Mordechai is on a leave of absence while he is being investigated for allegedly sexually assaulting a young female employee.

And the religious leader of the Shas faction, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, is under investigation after he publicly berated a political opponent and compared him to ancient enemies of the Jewish people.

Professor Asher Arian, senior fellow of the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem, told that this seemingly new trend of exposing political corruption was due to a combination of factors. The scrutiny of investigative reporting had exposed many things recently, he said. There also was "greater transparency" and a sense that "nothing is sacred" and "everything is available for criticism," Arian said.

Conduct that might have been acceptable in the past is no longer viewed as acceptable now.

Regarding Netanyahu specifically, Arian said that it would be "misleading to talk about a deliberate witchhunt" in terms of someone trying to prevent Netanyahu from entering politics.

In fact, he said, the affair could "mushroom" and turn into something in Netanyahu's favor. In any case, he added, "it's far from over."