Israeli police have recommended charging Benjamin Netanyahu with accepting bribes worth 1 million shekels (£200,000), dealing a potentially serious political blow to the long-serving Israeli prime minister.
After more than a year of investigating, Israel’s police said there was enough evidence to prosecute Mr Netanyahu on allegations he accepted lavish gifts from wealthy businessmen and tried to negotiate a corrupt deal with a newspaper publisher.
Police also recommended charging Mr Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust.
The final decision on whether not to bring charges against the prime minister lies with Israeli attorney general Avichai Mandelblit.
Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said in a defiant address on Tuesday night that he would not resign over the “baseless” police recommendations.
“Nothing will divert me from my commitment to the good of the nation,” Mr Netanyahu said. “I have not known a day in office without vicious allegations against me and my family.”
Detectives spent more than a year investigating two separate cases into Mr Netanyahu, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000.
The first probe focused on claims that Mr Netanyahu and his family illegally accepted extravagant gifts like champagne and cigars from Arnon Milchan, an Israeli Hollywood producer, and James Packer, an Australian millionaire.
The prime minister admitted taking the gifts but said they were presents between friends and that he had not given any political favours in return.
Case 2000 involves allegations that Mr Netanyahu offered a corrupt deal to the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, one of Israel’s largest newspapers.
He allegedly said he would restrict the circulation of Israel Hayom, a free sheet newspaper owned by his political benefactor US billionaire Sheldon Adelson which has eaten into Yedioth Ahronoth's market share. In return, he allegedly wanted Yedioth Ahronoth to give him more favourable coverage.
One of Mr Netanyahu’s closet aides agreed to testify against him in Case 2000 and Israeli police reportedly have tapes of the prime minister’s conversations with the newspaper publisher.
Mr Netanyahu, who is popularly known by his nickname "Bibi", said last week that he expected the police would call for his prosecution but urged his political supporters to hold their nerve.
"Many of you are asking what will happen, so I want to reassure you: There will be nothing, because I know the truth," he said.
“There will be recommendations, there will also be signs such as 'Bibi is guilty until proven innocent', there will also be inappropriate pressure, but I am sure that at the end of the day the competent legal bodies will come to one conclusion, to the simple truth: There is nothing.”
The prime minister and his allies have also tried to discredit the police investigation and cast it as a political witch hunt. At a rally last summer, Mr Netanyahu accused the Israeli media and his Left-wing opponents of “a coup against the government”.
“They know that they can’t beat us at the ballot boxes, so they are trying to circumvent democracy and topple us in other ways,” he told a crowd of 3,000 cheering supporters.
But a recent poll showed that a majority of Israelis said he should resign if police recommend that he be indicted.
The Hadashot TV news survey found that 60 per cent said he should resign if police recommended bribery charges and 63 per cent said he should resign if they recommended fraud charges.
Mr Netanyahu has been in this position twice before and both times prosecutors declined to bring charges against him.
During his first stint as prime minister in 1997 prosecutors opted not to charge him in a scandal over political appointments but said publicly that it was “a very difficult decision” not to indict him.
Three years later, police recommended charging both Mr Netanyahu and his wife Sara with illegally taking silverware, carpets and other items from the prime minister’s residence when they moved out.
Prosecutors again decided not to bring charges, saying there was insufficient evidence.
Mr Netanyahu is under no legal obligation to resign even if prosecutors decide to move ahead with charging him.
However, an indictment would likely bring major political pressure to stand down both from opposition parties and from within his own Likud Party, where several ministers have made clear they are angling for the top job.
Mr Netanyahu heads a coalition government and the leaders of his main partner parties have said they will not withdraw from the coalition over police recommendations but will instead wait for a final decision by prosecutors.
Mr Netanyahu has been prime minister for a cumulative 11 years over stints in office. If he remains in power until July 2019 he will be Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, overtaking the country’s founder David Ben-Gurion.
Mr Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, spent 16 months in prison after being convicted of fraud and bribery during his time as the mayor of Jerusalem.