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Israeli Attorney General Prepares To Indict Netanyahu

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Israel's attorney general says he's preparing to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for corruption. These indictments are not final. It could be months before they are filed. But just weeks ahead of an election, Netanyahu is now accused of fraud and bribery. NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us from Jerusalem. He's been covering this story.

Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What exactly is the prime minister accused of doing?

ESTRIN: Well, he's accused in three separate cases. The attorney general has put out very detailed allegations. They boil down to Netanyahu's dealings with businessmen and his alleged efforts to control press coverage. The most serious allegation is that Netanyahu used his authority to approve regulations and business deals that allegedly netted close to half a billion dollars for a businessman. And in exchange, Netanyahu got to dictate positive coverage about him in - about himself in the businessman's news website. Netanyahu is also accused of discussing a proposal to help a major newspaper publisher with his business in exchange for pro-Netanyahu coverage. And he's accused of doing lucrative favors for a Hollywood producer in exchange for cigars and champagne. So now Netanyahu gets a hearing to try to prevent these charges from being filed. But legal experts say that indictment is pretty certain.

INSKEEP: What does the prime minister say about these really quite remarkable allegations that he was using corrupt means to manipulate his own media coverage?

ESTRIN: Right. Well, he gave a speech yesterday. And it was a roller coaster ride. He went from jeering at the media to choking up at one point. He called the allegations a house of cards, fake, scandalous, a blood libel, a witch hunt. He said he's being put through these seven circles of hell. He accused senior prosecutors of bias. He said this is a plot by the left wing, by the media, the justice officials, to topple him from power. He says it's an interference in Israeli elections, which are just six weeks away. And he ended his speech with a promise. Take a listen to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: He's saying he intends to serve as prime minister for many more years.

INSKEEP: And he's already been prime minister for many years. He's been repeatedly elected. He's been in and out of office. He's been a dominant figure in Israeli politics for so long. Daniel, I do have to ask - I mean, if we're talking about manipulating media figures and news organizations, reporters do have a tendency to speak out from time to time. Has anybody, like, publicly spoken up and said, yes, I was ordered to write nice stories about Bibi Netanyahu?

ESTRIN: Yes. There were some reporters and editors at that news website who say that yes, they were - received direct orders. And there are - a lot of reaction right now among, you know, Netanyahu's opponents. They're calling on him to step down.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that because you're in the middle of an election campaign. Has this dominated the campaign headlines?

ESTRIN: Yes. This campaign has now become whether Netanyahu should continue or not. His right-wing political partners are standing by his side. And he could stay in power.

INSKEEP: He barely survived the last election - narrowly survived but has a chance to do it again.

ESTRIN: He sure does.

INSKEEP: Daniel, thanks so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.