Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. (Photo: AP)
In what was billed as a "dramatic announcement", Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a prime-time address on Monday to again dismiss a series of corruption allegations against him.
Netanyahu said that it would be "unjust" for him to be indicted ahead of early elections called for April 9 without a chance to respond to the claims against him. He said authorities had denied his requests to confront state witnesses in person, and he offered to do so on live television. "What are they afraid of? What do they have to hide?" he said.
Police have recommended indicting Netanyahu on an array of charges stemming from three corruption investigations, but it falls to Netanyahu’s hand-picked attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, to decide whether to bring charges. It’s unclear whether he will do so before early elections scheduled for April 9.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and branded the investigations a "witch hunt" orchestrated by his political opponents and a hostile media. He has said he will not give up his re-election campaign or resign from office if indicted.
The Israeli media scrambled to cover his address on Monday, running it live on all major stations, only to have commentators widely dismiss the brief address as a ploy by the prime minister to again attack the investigation.
In a terse statement, the Justice Ministry defended its probes, saying they had been handled professionally.
Last month, police recommended indicting Netanyahu on bribery charges, saying they believed he had used his connections with the controlling shareholder of Israel’s telecom giant, Bezeq, to promote regulatory changes worth hundreds of millions of dollars in exchange for positive press coverage on Bezeq's popular news site Walla.
Police said they believed there was sufficient evidence to charge Netanyahu and his wife Sara with accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.
Police have also recommended indicting Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases. One involves accepting gifts from billionaire friends, and the second revolves around alleged offers of advantageous legislation for a major newspaper in return for favorable coverage.
Over the course of the investigations, three former top aides to Netanyahu have turned state witnesses against him.
Netanyahu nevertheless said Monday that he was "certain of my innocence".
"I request to confront all the witnesses who stated things that don’t align with my position, the truth," he said.