World News

Netanyahu Lashes Out as Israeli Police Wrap Up Graft Inquiries

Posted February 8, 2018 1:59 p.m. EST

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has lashed out at the country’s police chief, whom he accused of airing “delusional and mendacious” insinuations against him, just days before police are expected to publish recommendations regarding potential charges against Netanyahu in two corruption investigations, possibly including bribery.

“Any fair-minded person will ask themselves how people who say such delusional things about the prime minister can investigate him objectively and make recommendations in his case without bias,” Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post after midnight Wednesday.

“A large shadow has been cast this evening over the police investigations and recommendations in the case of Prime Minister Netanyahu,” he added.

Critics said Netanyahu, now in his third consecutive term in office, was trying to discredit police in order to delegitimize investigations that could undermine his political future.

“Clearly it is unjustified,” Barak Medina, a professor in the law faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said of the attack on the police commissioner, Roni Alsheich. “The prime minister is trying to create a spin and present himself as the victim.”

Like other observers, Medina drew comparisons with President Donald Trump’s criticism of the FBI and Justice Department amid investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign.

In a second Facebook post Thursday afternoon, Netanyahu denied any personal attack on Alsheich. “The real question is the purity of the investigation,” he wrote. “The allegations that were aired are grave and should keep any decent person awake at night.”

He made his criticisms after Alsheich said in a lengthy television interview Wednesday that private detectives working on behalf of “powerful” people had been gathering information about investigators working on the Netanyahu files, sniffing around their relatives and neighbors and asking questions.

Though he did not directly accuse the prime minister of involvement, Alsheich did little to push back when his interviewer suggested that the private detectives were acting on behalf of politicians.

“Ultimately,” he added, “we know who these people are. Apparently somebody has to pay them, and therefore this disturbs us greatly.”

Alsheich has said that after he went public, some months ago, about what he described as “pressures” applied to the investigators by those collecting information on them, the activity stopped. Alsheich said Wednesday that these were not “rumors or blah blah blah,” but “facts.”

Netanyahu excoriated Alsheich for “repeating the delusional and mendacious insinuation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent private detectives against police officers investigating him.”

In the interview broadcast on the respected magazine program “Uvda” — an Israeli equivalent of “60 Minutes” — Alsheich also defended the leader of the police anti-corruption unit, Roni Ritman, who has been accused of sexual harassment and recently stepped down.

Netanyahu also struck back at this part of the conversation, although his name once again went unmentioned.

He wrote of Alsheich, “It is shocking to discover that he is repeating to journalists the no less ludicrous and false insinuation of Ritman, as if the prime minister was involved in the complaint” against the investigations unit chief. Netanyahu and his lawyer have called for a swift inquiry into the claims they said Alsheich had implied.

The extraordinary clash came amid reports in Israel that police were likely to present conclusions during the next week regarding the evidentiary basis for charges in two graft cases against Netanyahu.

In the first, known as Case 1000, investigators are looking at whether Netanyahu offered favors in return for gifts of expensive cigars, pink Champagne and other goods from wealthy friends, including an Israeli Hollywood producer, Arnon Milchan.

The second, Case 2000, involves backroom dealings with a local newspaper magnate. Netanyahu was recorded negotiating for favorable coverage with the publisher of a newspaper that had often criticized him, Yedioth Ahronoth, in exchange for curtailing the circulation of a free competitor, Israel Hayom, financed by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Police have been investigating Netanyahu on suspicion of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, according to the Israeli authorities.

Netanyahu has already tried to prepare the public for the likelihood that police will recommend charges, suggesting that such a move would be meaningless, since, he said, only about half of police recommendations resulted in formal charges.

A final decision regarding any indictment of Netanyahu is likely to be months away and would lie with the attorney general, after consultations with the state prosecutor. Earlier Wednesday night, Netanyahu posted a video on his Facebook page in which he told his supporters not to worry.

“There will be recommendations, there will also be signs saying, ‘Bibi is guilty until proven innocent,’ and invalid pressures,” he said. “But I am sure that at the end of the day the authorized legal bodies will come to the same conclusion, to the simple truth: There is nothing.”

Netanyahu appointed Alsheich as police commissioner about two years ago, and praised him at the time as a “creative, original and determined commander who is not afraid to take the initiative.”

The relationship has soured since the investigations began. In October, Netanyahu attacked Alsheich and blamed police for what he called a “tsunami” of leaks about the investigations. Alsheich denied that police had been the source of the leaks.

David Amsalem, coalition chairman for Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party, accused police of attempting a coup.

“When people are being murdered in the streets,” he said on Army Radio, “it is more important than the prime minister having received a cigar.”

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist party Yesh Atid and a challenger for the post of prime minister, described Netanyahu’s attack on the police chief as “a desperate act of a person under investigation who has decided to exploit his lofty position to threaten the rule of law and cast aspersions on the police, who protect us all.” Avi Gabbay, leader of the center-left Labor Party, called Netanyahu’s attack “unprecedented” and “illegitimate.”

Asked by the television interviewer, Ilana Dayan, a veteran investigative journalist, if the Israeli public would be surprised by the police findings, Alsheich replied, “There will be some people who will say, ‘Wait a moment, this is not what we thought.'”

As for the idea that he could end up being remembered as the police chief who brought down a sitting prime minister, Alsheich said, “I don’t like it, but that’s my job.”