December 31, 2018 / 7:57 PM / 6 months ago

Israel's Netanyahu said would not resign during possible indictment hearing

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he would not resign from office should the attorney general accept police recommendations to indict him before his side of the case is heard.

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

Netanyahu last week announced a snap election would be held in April, seeking a fresh political mandate that could help him weather possible charges in corruption investigations.

The Israeli leader is enmeshed in three graft cases and denies any wrongdoing.

Should Israel’s attorney-general decide to press charges against Netanyahu, he would announce the indictment pending a hearing, after which charges could be filed in court.

Asked at a news conference in Rio de Janeiro whether he would bow out of the election race should that happen, Netanyahu said: “I don’t intend to resign.”

“According to the law, the prime minister does not have to resign during the hearing process ... The hearing doesn’t end until my side is heard,” he said.

“Imagine what would happen if a prime minister is ousted before the hearing is finished, and then after the hearing they decide to close the case. It’s absurd. It’s a terrible blow to democracy.”

The indictment decision had been expected within weeks, but some analysts say the attorney general could opt to delay the move out of concern he might influence the outcome of the election. The Justice Ministry has promised to continue its work “independent of political events”.

Opinion polls show Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party easily winning the April 9 vote, which was originally scheduled for November.

Netanyahu held the news conference during a trip to Brazil for the inauguration of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday. He is the first Israeli prime minister to visit Brazil.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Alison Williams

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