March 11, 2019 / 4:14 PM / 13 days ago

Final decision on Netanyahu indictment to follow Israeli vote

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israelis will go the polls next month before a decision on whether to file a criminal indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three corruption cases, the Justice Ministry said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, March 10, 2019. Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Israel’s attorney-general announced on Feb. 28 he intended to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, though the actual filing of the charges would depend on the outcome of a required hearing.

Due to its proximity to the April 9 election, the hearing had been widely expected to happen after the vote.

“The attorney-general ... decided to accept the request of the prime minister’s attorneys to delay the delivery of investigation materials in the cases related to the prime minister until after the election date,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

It said Netanyahu made the request out of concern that evidentiary material could leak to the media - and potentially affect public sentiment.

The hearing, the ministry said, will take place no later than July 10.

Netanyahu is suspected of wrongfully accepting $264,000 worth of gifts, which prosecutors said included cigars and champagne, from tycoons, and dispensing favours in alleged bids for improved coverage by an Israeli newspaper and a website.

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.

He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum 3-year term for fraud and breach of trust.

Opinion polls show a tight race for Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, with gains for a centre-left alliance led by Benny Gantz, an ex-armed forces chief who has vowed clean government.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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