Israel passes law that critics say is meant to shield PM

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's parliament has passed legislation curbing a police practice of recommending indictments in high-profile cases before charges are pressed.

The bill was pushed by Benjamin Netanyahu's party as he faces corruption allegations, and critics said it was designed to shield the long-ruling prime minister.

The so-called "recommendations bill" passed early Thursday after days of filibustering. It stops police from recommending to prosecutors whether to indict suspects upon completing their investigations. It also aims to stop leaks to the media from the investigations themselves. Much of the details of police investigations of Netanyahu that have been published stem from such leaks.

Critics say the law muzzles police and other institutions. Some opponents, including an opposition party and an activist group, said they plan to challenge the law in court. An initial version was watered down after an uproar and the law as passed does not apply to current investigations, including those concerning Netanyahu.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called it "an immediate and explicit threat" to law enforcement. He said it marks "the battle between the country's spirit of democracy and a spirit of corruption."

Supporters of the bill say it's needed to protect citizens who are investigated but never charged and have their reputations tarnished when recommendations are made public.

Netanyahu has been questioned in two cases and police say they suspect him of being involved in bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

One investigation involving Netanyahu, dubbed by police "File 1000," reportedly concerns claims he improperly accepted lavish gifts from supporters, including Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan.

The second investigation, "File 2000," reportedly concerns Netanyahu's 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 denied any wrongdoing and calls the accusations a witch hunt orchestrated by a hostile media.

Another investigation has engulfed his close associates. "File 3000" relates to a possible conflict of interest involving the purchase of German submarines. Netanyahu's personal attorney, who is also his cousin, represented the German firm involved and is suspected of trading his influence with the prime minister in return for a hefty cut of the deal.

Netanyahu has not been named a suspect in that probe.

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