Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday appeared likely to escape indictment in the corruption scandal swirling about his troubled government, but the political crisis was far from over.
State attorney Edna Arbel said prosecutors had reached decisions in the influence-peddling case that has come to be known as the “Bar-On affair” and hoped to announce them Sunday. She did not disclose the findings, but legal analysts and Israeli media reports said all indications were that no charges would be filed against Netanyahu.
Even so, Netanyahu’s legal woes - let alone his political ones - were far from over. Legal analysts said the decisions made by Arbel and her boss, Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, are subject to review by the Israeli Supreme Court. On several occasions in recent years, the court has rejected prosecutors’ decisions not to file indictments in matters considered to be of public interest and has returned the cases to prosecutors for charges.
Also unclear was whether any of the five small parties that make up Netanyahu’s coalition along with his own Likud Party would bolt, forcing the government to fall.
Two others implicated in the affair, Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Netanyahu aide Avigdor Lieberman, also were expected to avoid criminal charges. But an indictment, reportedly for extortion, was expected against a key member of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party.
Deri’s supporters responded angrily to the reports, warning that Shas members will create a political “earthquake” if their leader is the only one indicted in the case. The implicit threat was that Shas, which controls 10 votes in Netanyahu’s 66-seat coalition, could pull out, forcing early elections that party leaders believe could boost their hold on power.
The affair involves allegations that Netanyahu, Hanegbi and Lieberman conspired to appoint Jerusalem lawyer Roni Bar-On attorney general in January under pressure from Deri. The influential Shas leader allegedly believed Bar-On would help him secure a plea bargain in his long-running corruption trial. But Bar-On resigned less than a day later, stung by criticism that he was unqualified for the post.
Police investigators recommended this week that Netanyahu, Hanegbi and Lieberman be brought to trial for fraud and breach of the public trust. They acknowledged, however, that their case against the prime minister was “softer” than those against the other officials and said it relied primarily on the testimony of a single witness.
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