JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's parliament has passed the first stage of a contentious piece of legislation that may prevent police from recommending if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be prosecuted on corruption allegations.
Parliament late Monday passed a first reading of the so-called "recommendations bill" that would end the police's current practice of recommending to the state prosecution office whether to indict suspects upon completing their investigations. It also aims to stem leaks from the investigations themselves, stating that no police recommendations be made public and leaking to the press could carry a penalty of up to a year in prison.
Netanyahu's Likud party says it plans to move the bill forward quickly so that it will also apply to investigations currently taking place regarding Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has been questioned in two cases and police say they suspect him of being involved in bribery, fraud and breach of trust. One of his closest former aides has turned state's witness against him. Police have already grilled him six times regarding gifts he received from Hollywood and business figures, and in another probe about secret talks with the publisher of a major Israeli newspaper in which Netanyahu allegedly requested positive coverage in exchange for reining in a free pro-Netanyahu daily.
Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and calls the accusations a witch hunt orchestrated by a hostile media.
The bill's sponsor, David Amsalem, is a Likud lawmaker who often acts as a surrogate for Netanyahu. However, he says the bill is for the public good and aimed at protecting the 14,000 Israelis who are investigated by police each year but against whom no charges are ultimately brought forward.
"Eighty percent of the cases in which the police decide to write a recommendation saying there is an evidentiary basis (to press charges) are closed by the prosecution," he said. "What happens on the way? The man's entire life is ruined because he's already (considered) guilty."
But critics lambasted it as just the latest effort to try and save the beleaguered Netanyahu and harmed the police and other state institutions in the process.
"After the prime minister said that the bill was not personally tailored for him, it was immediately ensured that the bill would be tailored specifically for him," said Yair Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid party. "The only people who will enjoy this bill are politicians, heads of crime families and politicians who behave like the heads of crime families."