08 February 2021

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in court today to formally respond to corruption charges, as his trial enters an intensified phase six weeks before he faces re-election.

Netanyahu, the first Israeli premier to be indicted in office, was charged last year over allegations that he accepted improper gifts and sought to trade regulatory favor with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage. The combative 71-year-old prime minister, who has blasted the charges as “fabricated and ludicrous,” was at the Jerusalem court conferring with his legal team shortly before the hearing was due to start. Repeatedly suggesting the charges against him have been trumped up, Netanyahu has taken direct aim at his hand-picked attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit.

At the today’s hearing, which was pushed back multiple times due to coronavirus restrictions, Netanyahu is compelled to deliver the defendant’s formal response to the allegations. This marks the last pre-trial hearing with upcoming sessions focused on testimony and evidence. The trial schedule may force Netanyahu to appear in court multiple times a week, as he campaigns ahead of Israel’s fourth election in less than two years to be held on March 23.

For the first time in his political career, Netanyahu is also facing a challenge from a prominent Likud defector: Gideon Saar, who broke with the prime minister to form his own New Hope party. The charges against Netanyahu are divided into three separate cases.

The most serious – known as Case 4,000, in which the premier is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust – centers on the allegation that he negotiated with telecommunications giant Bezeq to secure positive coverage on his Walla! news site in exchange for policies benefiting Bezeq. Elovitch and his wife were also indicted.

Case 2,000 concerns allegations Netanyahu sought a deal with the owner of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper that would have seen it give him more favorable coverage.

Case 1,000 involves allegations Netanyahu and his family received gifts, including luxury cigars, champagne and jewelry estimated to be worth more than $213,000), from wealthy individuals, in exchange for financial or personal favors.

The prime minister denies wrongdoing.

Adapted from original source:ArabNews

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