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Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu indicted on corruption charges

Israel's attorney general formally charged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a series of corruption cases.

Capping a three-year investigation, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit charged Netanyahu with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three different scandals. It is the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister has been charged with a crime.

Netanyahu, in a nationally televised address, called his indictment an "attempted coup" and said the investigation was tainted and stemmed from "false accusations."

"They weren't after the truth, they were after me," Netanyahu said of investigators.

As the investigation gained steam in recent months, Netanyahu has repeatedly lashed out at the media, the police and the justice system, drawing accusations that he was undermining the country's democratic institutions.

"I will continue to lead the country, according to the letter of the law, with responsibility, devotion and concern for all of our futures," he said, standing at a podium against the backdrop of four Israeli flags in his official residence.

His main centre-left challenger in the two elections this year, Benny Gantz, tweeted in response: "There is no coup in Israel, just a bid [by Netanyahu] to hang onto power."

Mandelblit, who said Thursday was "a difficult and sad day," rejected accusations that his decision was politically motivated and said he had acted solely out of professional considerations.

According to the indictment, Netanyahu accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of champagne and cigars from billionaire friends, offered to trade favours with a newspaper publisher and used his influence to help a wealthy telecom magnate in exchange for favourable coverage on a popular news site.

The indictment does not require Netanyahu to resign, but it significantly weakens him at a time when Israel's political system appears to be limping toward a third election in under a year.

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