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So much for Netanyahu’s comeback?


JERUSALEM, March 29 (JTA) — A police recommendation that Benjamin Netanyahu be charged with a series of crimes may have quashed any political comeback aspirations the former prime minister may have had.

Following a seven-month investigation, police officials recommended Tuesday that Netanyahu be charged with accepting a bribe, breach of public trust, fraud and obstruction of justice.

The officials also recommended that Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, be charged with theft and breach of public trust.

After Netanyahu announced last year he was taking a “time-out” from politics following his heavy defeat to Ehud Barak in the elections for prime minister, there has been speculation Netanyahu might be considering a comeback either in the Likud or another right-wing party.

Sources close to Netanyahu have been quoted in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz as saying he had recently indicated that he would not consider such a move in the next elections — but that he might in the subsequent elections.

But if justice officials decide to follow up on the police recommendation, Netanyahu’s political career could well be over.

The investigation focused on official gifts the Netanyahus are suspected of taking when he left office. It also addressed allegations that a Jerusalem contractor had provided the couple with services for free in exchange for political favors.

Netanyahu angrily denied during a prime-time televised address that he is guilty of wrongdoing, saying the allegations are “baseless” and accusing the police investigation of being politically motivated.

“This is not a pursuit, it is a manhunt,” Netanyahu said Tuesday night, breaking the silence he maintained during the course of the investigation.

Police commissioner Yehuda Wilk flatly rejected the accusation.

The Netanyahus are suspected of illegally taking some 700 official gifts at a total estimated value of $100,000 dollars when he left office.

Police found some of the items during a search of the couple’s private home and located others in a state storage room with other personal effects belonging to the Netanyahus. Some of the gifts were never recovered.

In some cases, police said the original packaging of the items had been discarded and there were visible signs of efforts to rub off the identifying labels on the items.

Police also suspect a “give and take” relationship existed over several years between the Netanyahus and Jerusalem contractor Avner Amedi.

Police allege that Amedi performed various services for the couple without ever billing them, and in exchange, Netanyahu used his influence to secure government contracts for Amedi.

In addition, Netanyahu is suspected of having Amedi submit bills to the Prime Minister’s Office in an attempt to get public funds to cover some $50,000 worth of services that Amedi provided, including some at the couple’s private home.

With regard to these suspicions, police recommended that the former director general of Netanyahu’s office, Moshe Leon, and another worker there, Ezra Seidoff, be charged for trying to cover up the bogus billing.

Amedi himself supplied evidence to the police regarding his dealings with the Netanyahus.

The police recommendation to charge Netanyahu is the latest in a series of police investigations of Israeli public officials.

The attorney general this week ordered a police probe of the spiritual leader of the fervently Orthodox Shas party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, for remarks he made against a cabinet minister.

Police are currently conducting investigations of President Ezer Weizman for gifts he received from a French millionaire friend, and of nonprofit organizations that campaigned for Ehud Barak’s election for alleged campaign financing violations.

Netanyahu said in the television interview he was convinced nothing would come of the latest police recommendations.

“Police have recommended charging 15 public figures, and all of them were cleared,” Netanyahu said.

Among those 15 was Netanyahu himself.

While serving as prime minister, police recommended that he be charged in connection with alleged improprieties in connection with the short- lived January 1997 appointment of Roni Bar-On as attorney general.

Prosecutors later rejected the recommendation, citing insufficient evidence.

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