Wed, 08 Apr 2020

The trial of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges will open on March 17, the justice ministry said on Tuesday.

It said the indictment would be read by judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman in the presence of Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

The announcement comes as the 70-year-old prime minister campaigns ahead of March 2 elections, Israel's third in less than a year, after two previous polls resulted in a deadlock between Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz.

Gantz had refused after September elections to join a unity government led by Netanyahu, saying he must first settle his differences with the judiciary before taking power.

Netanyahu was charged in the autumn last year with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit formally presented the charge sheet to the Jerusalem district court on January 28 after Netanyahu had withdrawn a request seeking parliamentary immunity lodged earlier that month.

His opponents had already mustered a majority in the legislature to deny him immunity.

Netanyahu is Israel's only head of government to have been indicted during his term in office.

Under Israeli law, a sitting prime minister is only required to step down once convicted of an offence and after all avenues of appeal have been exhausted.

Netanyahu denies the charges and says he is the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt.

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