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Israeli attorney general says can rule on Netanyahu indictment before polls

Prime minister's main rival Benny Gantz has said he must relinquish premiership if indicted
Israel's Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (L) speaks as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Noble Energy's vice president for major projects, George Hatfield (R), stand by during the inauguration of the newly arrived foundation platform for the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea (AFP)

Israel's attorney general said on Friday there was no legal reason to prevent him from indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges before an election on 9 April should he decide such a move was warranted.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said his team was still examining the case materials and intended to make a decision as soon as possible.

Netanyahu is facing possible charges in three graft cases. He denies any wrongdoing and has called the cases a witch-hunt.

A prime minister cannot preside over Israel when an indictment has been filed against him

- Benny Gantz

He is still the favourite to win the election but opinion polls show one of his toughest challengers, former army chief Benny Gantz, making gains.

Mandelblit said he had informed Netanyahu's lawyers "there is no impediment to making and publishing a decision, if there is any, to consider filing an indictment in the cases relating to the prime minister, or part of them, subject to a hearing, even before the election date".

Netanyahu has said he would not bow out of the race if Mandelblit announces his intention to accept police recommendations to indict him.

Police say Netanyahu granted regulatory favours to leading telecommunications company Bezeq Telecom Israel in return for more positive coverage on a news website belonging to the firm's owner.

In a second case, police contend that Netanyahu received expensive gifts from rich friends.

A third investigation focuses on suspicions that Netanyahu negotiated a deal with one newspaper for better coverage in return for promises to back legislation that would have limited the circulation of a rival.

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On Tuesday, Gantz said that Netanyahu should not be allowed to retain his seat in the Knesset if he was indicted.

"A prime minister cannot preside over Israel when an indictment has been filed against him," Gantz said, speaking at the Tel Aviv Convention Center.

Gantz's party, which he formed just last month, could win between 21 and 24 seats in the 120-member parliament, according to opinion polls published by Israel's three main television stations, compared with the 12-15 seats predicted prior to Tuesday's official campaign launch.

Netanyahu's ruling right-wing Likud, which holds a quarter of the Knesset seats, was expected to win 30 or 31.