Charges loom for Benjamin Netanyahu: A look at the Israeli leader’s past scandals

The Israeli attorney general’s decision to recommend criminal charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a series of graft cases is the latest, and most dramatic, twist in the spiralling saga of legal troubles and scandals that have plagued the leader’s three-decade political career.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s recommendations of fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges on Thursday concluded a two-year investigation into a range of corruption allegations against Netanyahu. The cases centred on the leader’s backroom dealings with Israeli newspaper publishers and a telecom company aimed at scoring more favourable coverage, as well as with a Hollywood media mogul who allegedly showered him with hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit gifts.

These may be the weightiest corruption allegations against Netanyahu, but they are hardly the first.

Throughout his decade in office, the embattled Netanyahu has encountered a series of embarrassing scandals. He and his wife Sara, who has been separately indicted for alleged overspending, have gained a reputation for leading indulgent lives at public expense.

Netanyahu has assailed the investigations as a conspiratorial witch hunt, vehemently denying any wrongdoing. While a final decision on the charges is still pending, Mandelblit’s intention to indict the prime minister could be a game-changer as Netanyahu fights for re-election in the coming weeks.

Here’s a look at some of the scandals that have beset Netanyahu and his family since he began to dominate Israel’s political scene:

Influence peddling

During his first term in office in the 1990s, Netanyahu was suspected of appointing a crony as attorney general in exchange for political support from the ultra-religious Shas party. Prosecutors called Netanyahu’s conduct “puzzling,” but ultimately closed the case, citing lack of evidence.

Lining pockets

During that same spell in office, Netanyahu and his wife Sara were suspected of pocketing gifts and foreign contributions received from world leaders — items considered state property. The Netanyahus also were suspected of accepting favours from a contractor. Both cases were closed without charges.

Flying high

Netanyahu was suspected of double billing travel expenses and using state funds to cover personal travel in the 2000s, while he was finance minister and opposition leader. After a drawn-out investigation, the attorney general dismissed the case.

Cries for help

Sara Netanyahu’s household help has consistently accused her of explosive tirades and mistreatment.

During Netanyahu’s first stint as prime minister, the family’s nanny said she was fired by Netanyahu’s wife for burning a pot of vegetable soup. The young woman said she was thrown out of the family’s home without her clothes or passport, and later was ordered to pick up her belongings dumped outside the front gate. Netanyahu’s office said the woman was fired because she was prone to violent outbursts.

Two household aides have won damages in lawsuits accusing Sara Netanyahu of abusive conduct. In 2016, a Jerusalem court awarded one domestic worker over $42,000 in damages. Last year, a recorded phone conversation surfaced of Mrs. Netanyahu screaming at her publicist about how a gossip column omitted mention of her educational credentials.

Hey, big spender

In 2016, an official expense report revealed that Netanyahu spent more than $600,000 of public funds on a six-day trip to New York, including $1,600 on a personal hairdresser. Three years earlier, he was criticized for spending $127,000 in public funds for a special sleeping cabin on a five-hour flight to London. Netanyahu contended he was unaware of the cost and halted the practice. He also was forced to stop purchasing ice cream from an artisanal Jerusalem parlour after news erupted that his office ran up a $2,700 bill for his favourite flavours, vanilla and pistachio.

Expensive taste

Sara Netanyahu was charged last summer with misusing some $100,000 in public funds to order lavish meals from celebrity chefs at the prime minister’s official residence, even though she already had cooks on the government payroll.

Allegations also mounted against the Netanyahus for using government money to purchase furniture for their private beach house and to cover the medical expenses of Sara Netanyahu’s late father. The attorney general ultimately dismissed the allegations.

Heir apparent

Last year a recording surfaced of Netanyahu’s eldest son, Yair, joyriding with his super-rich buddies to Tel Aviv strip clubs in a drunken night out in a taxpayer-funded government vehicle.

The 27-year-old Netanyahu has also sparked controversy for lewd and offensive social media posts over the years, such as his publishing a caricature that drew on classic anti-Semitic tropes.

Facebook suspended his account last winter after he wrote he would prefer an Israel without any Muslims.

Mistress leak

Back in the 1990s, rumours circulated that a videotape existed depicting Netanyahu and his image consultant, a married woman named Ruth Bar, in “compromising romantic situations.” In response, Netanyahu went on television and confessed to adultery, even though the tape never turned up.

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