Israel passes controversial law altering police powers

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israel's parliament passed a controversial law Thursday limiting the police's ability to recommend charges following their investigations after criticism that lawmakers were seeking to protect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The law will not apply to current investigations, however, meaning that graft probes involving Netanyahu will not be affected -- a change made after widespread criticism and large protests against corruption.

Members of parliament gave final approval to the bill by a vote of 59-54 early Thursday after a marathon debate lasting nearly two days.

Under the law, police will no longer be able to recommend to the attorney general whether or not to charge suspects at the conclusion of an investigation.

The new law requires the attorney general to ask for police input.

Netanyahu called for changes to the legislation in early December after his opponents said it was designed to help him survive ongoing corruption investigations.

The premier said it should be made clear that it "will not involve current investigations against me".

His call came after thousands of people protested against corruption.

Proponents of the law say it will prevent the public smearing of those being investigated before the attorney general decides how to proceed with a case.

Critics point out that it was proposed by Netanyahu supporters and argue it was initially designed to protect him as he awaits the completion of police enquiries.

Police are investigating Netanyahu over suspicions that he received expensive gifts from wealthy supporters as well as over allegations that he sought a secret deal for favourable coverage with a newspaper publisher.

Allies of the premier have also been questioned by police as part of a separate probe into the purchase of German submarines.

Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect in the submarine investigation.

The 68-year-old premier has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying he is being targeted by political opponents.