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World - Middle East

Netanyahu says he'll be cleared in fraud investigation

Some right-wing politicians believe the investigation is a witch hunt that could backfire, but others say that if Netanyahu is vindicated, he could become more popular than ever  

CNN's Jerrold Kessel looks into the investigation of Netanyahu
Windows Media 28K 80K

September 16, 1999
Web posted at: 9:08 p.m. EDT (0108 GMT)

In this story:

Probe could backfire, some say

Speculation about comeback plan


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Thursday that he will be cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with a fraud probe involving a government contractor.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, were questioned by police for nearly eight hours Wednesday.

"There are many absurd things. But there is something that we believe -- that in the end, justice will come to light," the former prime minister, accompanied by his wife, told reporters.

The Netanyahus -- who were warned by police that they could face charges -- were questioned separately in the wake of a report from Israel's leading daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, about alleged financial irregularities involving a contractor, Avner Amadi.

The report said that during Netanyahu's three years as prime minister, Amadi provided renovation and hauling services at the Netanyahu residence without ever submitting a bill.

But after Netanyahu was ousted in the May general election, the contractor reportedly sent a bill for $110,000 to the prime minister's government office, rather than to Netanyahu personally.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, saying he, too, objected to paying the bill because he thought it was excessive. He has called for an investigation by the state comptroller.

Subsequent press reports say the police are investigating whether Netanyahu and Amadi might have coordinated their accounts, which some legal experts say could amount to witness tampering.

Amadi, who was arrested for questioning Tuesday, has denied wrongdoing.

Probe could backfire, some say

Some right-wing politicians allied with Netanyahu believe the investigation is a witch hunt that could backfire.

"There are accusations, and the police should investigate, though, from a political point of view, to be indicted in Israel and then to be found that there's nothing in it can make you much more popular than ever," said Reuven Rivlin, a Likud member of the Knesset.

"Given the bad blood between Netanyahu and the Israeli press, the press perhaps hounds Mr. Netanyahu more than it would other politicians," said Chami Shalev, an Israeli political analyst.

"Be that as it may, this will seriously damage his chances of regaining the Likud leadership, because whatever happens, people will understand he did something he should not have done," Shalev said.

Speculation about comeback plan

After being defeated by Ehud Barak in May, Netanyahu quit politics. But there has been speculation that his departure was part of a plan for a subsequent comeback.

This is not the first investigation in which Netanyahu has been enmeshed. In 1997, he was nearly forced from office over an alleged attempt to influence a corruption investigation of a political ally.

While police recommended that Netanyahu be charged with fraud and breach of trust, state prosecutors decided there was insufficient evidence to proceed.

Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.

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