James Packer stars in charges against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel’s Attorney-General has formally charged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a series of corruption cases, throwing the country’s paralysed political system into further disarray and threatening the long-time leader’s grip on power.

Capping a three-year investigation, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit charged Mr 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.

According to the indictment, Mr 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 Mr Netanyahu to resign but is expected to raise pressure on him to step down.

Mr Mandelblit was set to issue a statement later today, as was Mr Netanyahu, who has called the allegations part of a witch hunt, lashing out against the media, police, prosecutors and the justice system.

The most serious charges were connected to so-called “Case 4000,” in which Netanyahu is accused of passing regulations that gave his friend, telecom magnate Shaul Elovitch, benefits worth over $US250 million ($367 million) to his company Bezeq.

In return, Bezeq’s news site, Walla, published favourable articles about Mr Netanyahu and his family.

Read the article in the Herald Sun (AP, News Corp).