Netanyahu demands right to confront witnesses over corruption claims

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has doubled down on his complaints of unfair treatment at the han...

Posted: Jan 8, 2019 5:48 AM
Updated: Jan 8, 2019 5:48 AM

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has doubled down on his complaints of unfair treatment at the hands of his opponents by demanding the right to confront the men who have turned state's witness against him in three corruption investigations.

Addressing the nation Monday evening in what was billed ahead of time as a "dramatic announcement," Netanyahu said the face-to-face meetings should happen on live television, so that the Israeli public could see and hear him challenge all the accusations against him.

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Netanyahu said he had already twice requested the opportunity to question the three state's witnesses but had been rebuffed on both occasions by investigators.

Israel's Prime Minister has been investigated by police in three separate cases.

Over the course of the police investigations, three former close confidants of Netanyahu -- Ari Harow, Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz -- have turned against him.

All three investigations have been handed over to the attorney general, who will make the final decision over whether to indict Netanyahu.

Police have said there is sufficient evidence to charge the Prime Minister with fraud, bribery and breach of trust.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but the investigations have still cast a shadow over the last two years of his premiership, as well as being a central issue in the unfolding general election campaign.

That election will take place on April 9, and there has been fevered speculation in recent weeks that the attorney general and his team are progressing with their deliberations at such a pace that Netanyahu will be asked to a pre-indictment hearing before election day.

Such a hearing would represent the Prime Minister's last chance to dissuade the attorney general from bringing charges.

In his address on Israeli television Monday night, Netanyahu denied he was making an attack on the rule of law, but questioned why certain individuals had not been called as witnesses in the investigations, and mocked the idea that he had received favorable media coverage in exchange for commercial favors, as two of the cases claim.

He also questioned why one of his chief rivals for the premiership, Yair Lapid of the opposition Yesh Atid party, had not been investigated.

Lapid also met with one of the businessmen named in one of the cases, Netanyahu said, and had even deleted his accounts of those meetings. Lapid has acknowledged such meetings took place but maintains there was nothing untoward about them.

In a statement released after Netanyahu's TV appearance, the Justice Ministry defended the work of the attorney general and the judiciary, saying they were following an "organized and professional work process that is not, and should not, be conducted in the media."

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