Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to be indicted pending a hearing as part of three corruption cases, the attorney-general said on Thursday, in a move that could severely hamper his chances of re-election.
The charges against Netanyahu include bribery, fraud and breach and trust, Israeli TV said.
Netanyahu is to be given the opportunity to argue against being indicted at a hearing before any charges are brought forward. The date for that hearing has not been set, the justice ministry said.
His ruling Likud party, which sought to delay the attorney-general’s announcement with a last-minute petition that was thrown out by the supreme court on Thursday, called the reported charges “political persecution”.
“Unilateral publication of the attorney general’s announcement just a month before the elections, without giving the prime minister an opportunity to refute these false accusations, is a blatant and unprecedented intervention in the elections,” Likud said.
Netanyahu is set to make a statement at 8pm (6pm GMT).
The decision to indict Netanyahu on corruption charges could have significant effects on the prime minister’s bid to be re-elected in the forthcoming elections on 9 April.
If Netanyahu is unsuccessful in his hearing, he would be the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be indicted.
Avi Gabbay, leader of the oppositional Labor party, called on Netanyahu to step down.
“Netanyahu, resign, put an end to national shame and do not conduct the battle from the prime minister’s home. Netanyahu embarrasses the State of Israel. Destroying everything to save himself,” he said in a statement.
“Israeli citizens do not want corrupt leadership. The prime minister is embarrassing the people of Israel and the State of Israel.”
The prime minister has repeatedly insisted he would not stand aside if indicted.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s three corruption cases
Netanyahu is caught up in several corruption cases, and the police have recommended he be indicted for three of them.
The most serious, Case 4,000, sees him accused of offering regulatory benefits to Bezeq telecoms firm in return for its media arm providing positive coverage.
In Case 2,000 he is again suspected of attempting to alter media coverage, allegedly attempting to broker a secret deal with the publisher of bestselling newspaper Yediot Aharonot.
That deal again sought favourable coverage in return for pursuing legislation that would have limited the circulation of one of the papers’ rivals.
Case 1,000, meanwhile, sees Netanyahu and his family accused of receiving luxury gifts in exchange for personal or financial favours.
The Israeli premier denies all charges and says they are politically motivated.
Netanyahu, who is Israel’s second-longest serving premier, in office for 13 years in total, is facing off a strong challenge from former army chief Benny Gantz.
Gantz has said Netanyahu must not run for re-election if indicted.
Polls suggest that Netanyahu’s party could pick up four less seats on 9 April were he to be indicted, affecting his chances of forming a coalition government.