Israel attorney general announces intention to indict Netanyahu

Jerusalem:Israel’s attorney general announced Thursday he intended to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a decision just weeks ahead of April elections.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said in a statement that he intended to charge the premier pending a hearing, where Netanyahu would be given a chance to defend himself before charges are filed.

The announcement comes ahead of April 9 elections in which Netanyahu is facing a tough challenge from a centrist political alliance headed by a respected former military chief of staff, Benny Gantz.

Netanyahu, who rejects all accusations, was due to speak at 1800 GMT and his right-wing Likud party called the allegations “political persecution.”

“Unilateral publication of the attorney general’s announcement just a month before the elections, without giving the prime minister an opportunity to refute these false accusations, is a blatant and unprecedented intervention in the elections,” Likud said in a statement.

The move to indict Netanyahu will further shake up an election campaign that has already turned into a mudslinging fest.

Netanyahu has been prime minister for a total of around 13 years and he would be on track to surpass founding father David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving premier should he win in April.

He is not required to step down if indicted, only if convicted with all appeals exhausted.