Former Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to negotiate corruption trial plea bargain

Opposition leader has denied bribery, breach of trust and fraud

Benjamin Netanyahu lost power in June after 12 years as prime minister and is now opposition leader. AP

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is negotiating a plea bargain to end his corruption trial, a source said on Sunday.

But talks have stalled over a condition that would remove him from politics.

Mr Netanyahu lost power in June after 12 years as prime minister and is now opposition leader. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud in three cases for which he was indicted in 2019. All are being tried together.

The source said Mr Netanyahu, 72, was discussing a deal with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit under which he would plead guilty to reduced charges and have any resulting jail term commuted to community service.

But the talks have hit a bump over Mr Netanyahu's demand to be spared a conviction carrying a “moral turpitude” clause, which under Israeli law would force him to quit politics for years, said the source, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The State Attorney's Office declined to comment. A lawyer for Mr Netanyahu, who has denied all wrongdoing and accused prosecutors of a politically motivated witch hunt, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Mr Netanyahu has vowed to unseat his successor, Naftali Bennett, a nationalist straddling a coalition of diverse parties.

Plea bargain could 'ease pressure on justice system'

Mr Netanyahu's conservative Likud party failed to form a new government last year in part because kindred parties refused to join Mr Netanyahu, citing the continuing trial.

With his legal troubles behind him, he could in theory be able to muster a broad new rightist coalition. If he were barred from politics, right-wing members of Mr Bennett's coalition could opt to form a new government with a Likud party under new leadership.

The idea of a plea bargain was promoted by a former Supreme Court president, Aharon Barak.

He told Kan radio it would ease the pressure on the justice system, which has spent years defending itself against allegations from Netanyahu loyalists that he was being denied due process.

A spokesman for Likud said he did not know about any such negotiations.

Updated: January 17, 2022, 7:35 AM