Police findings could lead to Netanyahu indictment

For the first time in the history of Israel, a former prime minister is facing criminal charges.

Police on Tuesday recommended indicting former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several others for alleged financial improprieties. The Netanyahus are also suspected of irregularities concerning gifts.

Netanyahu faces criminal charges, including obstruction of justice, bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His wife, Sara Netanyahu, faces charges of attempted fraud and theft.

Two others face charges, as well: Moshe Leon, the former director-general in the prime minister's office, and Ezra Seidoff, former head of the office's maintenance and housekeeping department.

The National Fraud Squad presented the findings of the seven-month investigation into the affair to state officials, who will decide whether there are grounds to indict.

Speaking on Channel 1, State Attorney Edna Arbel said that "it is true we have followed the investigation, but it would not be proper to respond to the recommendations until we have examined them."

Netanyahu's lawyer, Ya'acov Weinroth, declared: "The recommendations submitted by police have broken all records in the history of the state."

Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, he related to what he called a list of inconsistencies and contradictory charges.

"Police have only recommended, and recommendations are without any judicial meaning," he said. "We hope that after the state attorney examines the file there will be a decision to close it. If not, we will demand a speedy trial that is conducted daily and we plan to present a few surprises."

Responding to the charges, Netanyahu called the police recommendations "completely baseless."

In a statement, the former premier said, "We believe that an objective examination of the evidence will lead to a decision to close the file."

In September, Yediot Aharonot reporters informed police of plans to publish a report regarding work carried out by Jerusalem contractor Avner Amedi for the Netanyahus over an eight-year period, estimated at a value of about $50,000.

After carrying out the work, Amedi submitted an inflated bill for about $110,000 to the prime minister's office but was never paid.

The reporters notified police two weeks before the report was due to appear, allowing investigators to take certain steps that assisted them in the probe before it went public.

Police focused on the attempts by the Netanyahus and other officials to have the bill paid from the budget of the prime minister's office, including jobs Amedi carried out before Netanyahu was elected.

During the police investigation, Amedi turned state's witness and supplied police with details of his nine-year relationship with the Netanyahus and the description of the different jobs he carried out for them.

During the investigation, police searched the Netanyahus' private home and storeroom, where their personal belongings had also been stored after Netanyahu left office. Police discovered that 700 gifts, valued at a total of about $100,000, given to the couple when Netanyahu was in office had been stored with their personal items. Some gifts were being used by the couple in their home, while others were missing.

In summing up the findings, police said they had discovered that labels had been erased from some of the gift boxes and their original wrappings changed in an attempt to disguise their origin.

Police said that Seidoff and Leon had pushed to reach a compromise over the sum due Amedi and attempted to erase the existence of the original bill submitted by the contractor. The actions of the two, police said, not only violated regulations but also showed a disdain for public funds.

In addition, police charged that Seidoff received payment from Amedi to process his bill more quickly.

Netanyahu, in an exclusive interview on Channel 1, called the police recommendations ridiculous.

Regarding charges that Amedi carried out jobs for the couple both before Netanyahu was elected and after he was in office and never received payment, Netanyahu said, "You are right, me and my wife made a mistake that we offered to pay and Amedi kept putting us off…Amedi did not give us services for eight years but carried out removal jobs three times."

He added that a distinction should be made between the work Amedi carried out in an official capacity and work he carried out in a private capacity before Netanyahu was elected.

Netanyahu added that it was inconceivable to charge him with accepting bribes when Amedi himself appeared on Channel 2 and denied allegations of bribes, explaining that he asked for payment for the work but the sum was then disputed.

"When he submitted the inflated bill, I told officials in the prime minister's office not to pay, as the sum was inflated. He was entitled to receive payment for two removals," said Netanyahu.

Regarding the claims that the couple stole gifts, Netanyahu declared that the couple was forced to store the gifts and their personal belongings due to their hasty departure from the prime minister's residence. They planned to review the gifts at a later date and inform the authorities of those they sought to keep, he said.