JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Two weeks after fighting and failing to win an election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced trouble on a second front on Wednesday at legal hearings to decide whether he must face trial for corruption.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has already said he intends to file criminal charges against Netanyahu in high-profile cases that have dominated Israeli headlines for years.
But at a series of pre-trial hearings Netanyahu’s lawyers are arguing that prosecutors should not press charges in three graft cases.
Israel’s longest-serving leader denies any wrongdoing. But he has fought two inconclusive parliamentary elections this year under the shadow of allegations that opponents seized upon, waving “Crime Minister” banners at political rallies.
His chief opponent, former general Benny Gantz, said he would not serve in a cabinet led by a prime minister who faces indictment.
Here is a guide to the criminal cases surrounding Netanyahu.
The attorney-general announced in February that he intends to file criminal charges against Netanyahu in investigations listed as cases 4000, 1000 and 2000, pending the outcome of the hearings. Netanyahu could face fraud and breach of trust charges in all three cases, and bribery charges in case 4000.
Netanyahu says he is the victim of a politically orchestrated “witch-hunt” by the media and the left to oust him from office.
CASE 4000 alleges that Netanyahu granted regulatory favors to Israel’s leading telecommunications company, Bezeq Telecom Israel (BEZQ.TA), in return for positive coverage of him and his wife Sara on a news website controlled by the company’s former chairman.
CASE 1000 alleges that Netanyahu and his wife wrongfully received gifts from Arnon Milchan, a prominent Hollywood producer and an Israeli citizen, and Australian billionaire businessman James Packer, including champagne and cigars.
In CASE 2000, Netanyahu is suspected of negotiating a deal with the owner of Israel’s best-selling daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, for better coverage in return for legislation that would slow the growth of a rival daily newspaper.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE PRE-TRIAL HEARINGS?
They grant the prime minister’s legal team a chance to argue against the prospective charges and to convince the attorney-general to scrap or reduce them. Netanyahu is not expected to attend the hearings, which will be held on four days, ending next Monday.
After hearing the arguments, the attorney-general is expected to decide by the end of December whether to indict Netanyahu.
If Netanyahu is indicted it could take many months before his trial begins. He could also seek a plea deal rather than stand trial.
If still serving as prime minister, Netanyahu would be under no strict legal obligation to quit. According to Israeli law, a prime minister must step down if ultimately convicted, but can stay in office throughout legal proceedings, including appeals.
Netanyahu’s supporters in parliament have said they would support granting him immunity from prosecution. But it is unclear whether there are enough lawmakers to back such a move.
Bribery charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine. Fraud and breach of trust carry a prison sentence of up to three years.
Editing by Stephen Farrell