A look at corruption scandals facing Israeli prime minister

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, escorted by bodyguards walks with his wife Sara Netanyahu during a visit to the market on the eve of Israel's general elections in Jerusalem, Monday, April 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seeks re-election with a cloud of corruption charges looming over him

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking re-election Tuesday as corruption charges loom over him — and even if he gets another term, the legal proceedings could make it a very short one.

Israel's attorney general has recommended indicting Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in a series of corruption scandals that have dogged him for years and cast a pall over his future in politics. A potential fourth case emerged during the re-election campaign.

Here's a look at the background and current cases facing the longtime Israeli leader:

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BACKGROUND

The scandals have engulfed Netanyahu's family and his inner circle, with at least three former close confidants turning state's witnesses and testifying against him.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit — a Netanyahu appointee — says he has enough evidence to press charges against Netanyahu in three separate cases, pending a pre-indictment hearing where Netanyahu will be given the opportunity to defend himself. His political opponents say that even if he's legally permitted to stay in office, he will have lost the moral mandate to lead. Having him serve as prime minister while defending himself in court against series charges would be an embarrassment to the state, they say.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, have long been known for their penchant for an expensive lifestyle and questionable use of public funds. Mrs. Netanyahu has been indicted for graft, fraud and breach of trust for allegedly overspending more than $100,000 in public funds on private meals at their official residence.

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TELECOM TRADE-OFF

The most damaging case involves an influence-peddling scandal in which two of Netanyahu's closest aides are testifying against him on suspicion of promoting regulation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel's Bezeq telecom company. In return, Bezeq's popular news site, Walla, allegedly provided favorable coverage of Netanyahu and his family.

Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu family spokesman, and Shlomo Filber, the former director of the Communications Ministry under Netanyahu, cut deals with prosecutors after they were arrested along with Bezeq's controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch, his wife, son and other top Bezeq executives. Former journalists at the Walla news site have attested to being pressured to refrain from negative reporting of Netanyahu.

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LAVISH GIFTS

Police recommended indicting Netanyahu over accepting nearly $300,000 in gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.

Police say that in return for lavish gifts that included jewelry, expensive cigars and champagne, Netanyahu had operated on Milchan's behalf on U.S. visa matters, tried to legislate a generous tax break for him and sought to promote his interests in the Israeli media market.

Police have not commented on what Packer, who reportedly sought Israeli residency status for tax purposes, may have received, and Netanyahu has said all he received were gifts from friends. Longtime aide Ari Harow is a state witness in this case.

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MEDIA MEDDLING

Police have also recommended indicting Netanyahu for supposedly offering a newspaper publisher legislation that would weaken his paper's main rival in return for more favorable coverage.

Netanyahu reportedly was recorded asking Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Yediot Ahronot daily, for positive coverage in exchange for helping to weaken Israel Hayom, a free pro-Netanyahu newspaper that had cut into Yediot's business.

Israel Hayom is financed by Netanyahu's American billionaire friend Sheldon Adelson and largely serves as the prime minister's mouthpiece. Netanyahu has noted that a proposed law to weaken Israel Hayom never passed and that he had even dissolved his coalition and called a new election in 2015 because of his opposition to the proposal. Harow is a state witness in this case, too.

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GERMAN SUBMARINES

Netanyahu was questioned, but not named as a suspect, in a probe related to a possible conflict of interest involving a $2 billion purchase of German submarines that implicated some of his closest associates.

Netanyahu's personal attorney David Shimron, who is also his cousin, represented the German firm involved and is suspected of using his influence over the prime minister in return for a hefty cut of the deal.

But after seeming to escape this scandal, it was revealed that Netanyahu reportedly earned $4 million on a related German submarine sale to Egypt by owning shares in one of the German manufacturer's suppliers.

Netanyahu denies any financial wrongdoing regarding his investments in the Texas-based company Seadrift Coke steel factory, managed by another one of his cousins, Nathan Milikowsky.

Seadrift was later acquired by Ohio-based GrafTech International, a maker of materials needed for steelmaking, which was a supplier to German industrial group ThyssenKrupp. The German company later sold submarines to Israel and Egypt. His opponents have made that discovery a central issue in the tightly contested race, with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak even saying Netanyahu's actions "border on treason."

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Follow Heller at www.twitter.com/aronhellerap

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