Netanyahu asks to be excused from showing up at corruption trial

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose new government was sworn in Sunday, is trying to avoid having to appear before the court at the start of his corruption trial Sunday.

al-monitor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a swearing-in ceremony of his new unity government with election rival Benny Gantz, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, May 17, 2020.  Photo by Adina Valman/Knesset spokesperson's office/via REUTERS.

May 19, 2020

Days into his fifth term, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked to skip his scheduled court appearance at the opening of his corruption trial Sunday, Israeli media report. 

Netanyahu, the country’s first sitting prime minister to be tried in court, was indicted in November on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The investigation alleges Netanyahu accepted lavish gifts from wealthy businessmen and offered regulatory favors to media tycoons in exchange for favorable media coverage. 

He denies any wrongdoing and called the trial a politically motivated “witch hunt” orchestrated by his leftist rivals, the media and state prosecutors.

The charges against Israel's longest serving prime minister are to be read out in full Sunday at the Jerusalem District Court. Netanyahu’s team argues the security measures necessary for his appearance at what is largely a technical hearing would “cost the public a fortune.” According to the Times of Israel, Netanyahu’s defense team filed the request Monday for Netanyahu to skip Sunday's hearing.  

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said today that he would oppose such a request and that Netanyahu must show up in person to plead innocent or guilty, The Jerusalem Post reported. 

Originally scheduled for March 17, Netanyahu’s trial was postponed by more than two months amid coronavirus restrictions in the courts. Netanyahu doesn’t have the option of appearing via video conference. In March, a minister from his own Likud party successfully campaigned for remote trials to be used only when the defendants are in custody. 

Israel’s new government, headed by Netanyahu, was sworn in Sunday, ending more than a year of political deadlock. Under the terms of the coalition government, his former rival Benny Gantz will serve as both alternate prime minister and defense minister for 18 months before swapping with Netanyahu in November 2021.  

Netanyahu had faced calls to step down over the indictment. Israeli law says that Cabinet members must resign if indicted, but there is no provision requiring the same of the prime minister. 

Earlier this month, Israel’s top court dismissed a petition that argued Netanyahu’s indictment should disqualify him from leading the country’s next government. 

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