World News

Israeli Prime Ministers’ Struggles With Corruption: A Timeline

Posted February 14, 2018 7:08 p.m. EST
Updated February 14, 2018 7:16 p.m. EST

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is fighting new allegations of corruption from the Israeli police that have led to calls for his resignation.

This is not the first time Netanyahu has struggled with corruption investigations — he is sometimes referred to as Mr. Teflon for the trouble the police have had getting accusations to stick — nor is he the first of the country’s prime ministers to do so.

Here’s a brief timeline of his predecessors’ run-ins with the law, as well as his own past clashes with Israel’s criminal justice system.

Yitzhak Rabin

1977: During a trip to Washington that Rabin took with his wife, Leah, an Israeli journalist discovered that the Rabins held a savings account that had been opened when Rabin was Israel’s ambassador there. Israeli citizens were barred at the time from holding foreign accounts, and the attorney general ruled that Leah Rabin should stand trial and that Yitzhak Rabin should be fined. Yitzhak Rabin abandoned his campaign for a second term and was not charged; his wife was convicted and fined nearly $27,000.

Ehud Barak

2000: Israel’s comptroller fined Barak’s One Israel party, and the attorney general began a criminal investigation, over fundraising for Barak’s 1999 campaign, saying his associates had evaded strict campaign-finance rules by channeling illegal donations into a host of nonprofit groups. Barak said he was unaware of any impropriety and had ordered his campaign aides to obey the law. In 2002, the police recommended against indictment, for lack of evidence; the case against him was closed in 2003.

Ariel Sharon

2001: Sharon was accused of accepting bribes from a developer, David Appel, to gain the prime minister’s help in real estate deals including a resort and casino on the Greek island of Patroklos, beginning in the late 1990s, when Sharon was foreign minister. The police, who had been tapping Appel’s phones, said he had paid large consulting fees to Gilad Sharon, Sharon’s son. The state prosecutor recommended in 2004 that Ariel Sharon be indicted on bribery charges, but the attorney general dropped the case, saying the evidence did not come “remotely close” to enough for a conviction.

Ehud Olmert

2008: After months of public and political pressure following corruption allegations, Olmert announced he would not seek re-election, and would step down after a new chairman was elected within his party. In September, he officially resigned as prime minister, a week after the police recommended that he be indicted on charges of bribery, breach of public trust, money laundering and fraudulent receipt of goods. He remained at the head of an interim government until March 2009.

2012: In September, Olmert was given a one-year suspended jail sentence and a 75,300-shekel (about $20,000) fine for breaching the public’s trust in connection with his conduct as minister of trade and industry. In 2014, he was sentenced to six years on bribery charges, a sentence that was later reduced to 18 months and then in 2016 extended by an additional month.

Benjamin Netanyahu

1997: An Israeli reporter alleged that Netanyahu, during his first term as prime minister, had inappropriately interfered with the appointment of an attorney general in order to reach a political deal. The police recommended prosecuting him on charges of fraud and breach of trust, but the country’s attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein, decided in April not to press charges, for lack of evidence.

2000: Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, were suspected of having charged the government for work done at their private residence. In March, the police said there was evidence of bribery, fraud and the theft of $100,000 worth of gifts to the state. The Jerusalem prosecutor, Moshe Lador, ordered the case closed, but it was later published that the state prosecutor at the time, Edna Arbel, had thought that the Netanyahus should be indicted with fraud.

2011: Netanyahu was accused by the state comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, of having the state and other entities pay his travel expenses and those of his wife and sons while in between terms as prime minister. (He left the position after 1999 and resumed it a decade later after stints as the country’s finance minister and opposition leader.) Despite the comptroller’s findings, the attorney general at the time, Yehuda Weinstein, determined in 2014 there were no criminal suspicions. The matter was brought up again before the current state comptroller, Joseph Shapira, who had gathered additional evidence. Weinstein’s successor, Avichai Mandelblit, announced in 2017 that he was closing the case.

2018: After a yearlong graft inquiry, the police recommended late Tuesday that Netanyahu face prosecution on bribery, fraud and breach-of-trust charges. They said there was evidence he had accepted nearly $300,000 in gifts in exchange for official actions benefiting his patrons, and had backroom dealings with the publisher of a leading newspaper to ensure more favorable coverage.