Netanyahu wont face charges, paving way for political re-entry

JERUSALEM — In a move that could shake up Israel's political landscape, the attorney general has announced he will not bring corruption charges against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a 22-page written opinion issued Wednesday, Elyakim Rubinstein cited a "lack of sufficient evidence" to seek a trial on charges that Netanyahu took bribes during his tenure and failed to return state property after leaving office.

In addition to the bribery charges, the allegations against Netanyahu included grand larceny, fraud, breach of trust and obstruction of justice.

The decision clears the way for a possible political comeback by Netanyahu, who along with his wife, Sara, has denied any wrongdoing. Rubinstein also indicated in his decision that she, too, would not be indicted.

It was further reported that the decision on former Netanyahu staffers Moshe Leon and Ezra Seidoff, who also have been investigated for involvement, will be made after the High Holy Days.

Netanyahu, presently on a lecture tour in the United States, had no immediate plans to return to Israel, according to his office.

The former premier resigned from politics after his decisive defeat by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the May 1999 elections.

Recent opinion polls indicate that Netanyahu would make a more formidable opponent to Barak than the current opposition leader, Ariel Sharon.

Sharon has indicated that he intends to fight to retain control over the Likud Party, but has already stated that Netanyahu would be a "definite problem" for him in a party election.

Rubinstein's decision came as Barak is fighting to rebuild his coalition, which suffered the defections of four parties on the eve of July's Camp David summit.

Barak, who now controls a minority of the Knesset's 120 seats, faces the possibility of a vote for new elections when legislators return from their recess at the end of October.

Rubinstein's decision not to press charges will not necessarily mark the end of the legal process.

Netanyahu's political rivals are expected to ask the Supreme Court to demand an explanation from state prosecutors as to why charges were not pressed.