Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected on Thursday his indictment on an array of corruption charges, saying the country is witnessing an “attempted coup” against him.
In a defiant statement, Netanyahu said the indictment stemmed from “false accusations” and a systematically “tainted investigation.”
He said he will continue to lead Israel.
Netanyahu’s televised speech came shortly after the attorney general said the indictment was a “heavy-hearted decision” based solely on professional considerations.
Addressing reporters, Mandelblit rejected suggestions that the indictment was politically motivated.
He angrily criticized pressure campaigns by Netanyahu’s supporters and foes to sway his decision, which came after months of deliberations.
“A day in which the attorney general decides to serve an indictment against a seated prime minister for serious crimes of corrupt governance is a heavy and sad day, for the Israeli public and for me personally," he told reporters.
According to the indictment, Netanyahu accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of champagne and cigars from billionaire friends, offered to trade favors with a newspaper publisher and used his influence to help a wealthy telecom magnate in exchange for favorable coverage on a popular news site.
The indictment does not require Netanyahu to resign, but it significantly weakens him at a time when Israel’s political system appears to be limping toward a third election in under a year.
The political party of Netanyahu’s chief rival, former military commander Benny Gantz, said the prime minister has “no public or moral mandate to make fateful decisions for the state of Israel.”
Mandelblit criticized the often-heated pressure campaigns by Netanyahu’s supporters and foes to sway his decision. Both sides had staged demonstrations outside or near his home.
“This is not a matter of right or left. This is not a matter of politics,” he said. “This is an obligation placed on us, the people of law enforcement and upon me personally as the one at its head."