JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial was set to begin Sunday, the first criminal proceedings against a seated Israeli premier that come just as the long-serving leader returned to power after months of political deadlock.
Netanyahu, who is set to appear at the opening hearing at a Jerusalem court, is accused of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. He has denied any wrongdoing, and has dismissed the charges against him as a “witch hunt” by media and law enforcement.
Netanyahu and his allies have spent months lashing out the country's law enforcement system, and the charges against him have riven the nation. Police were prepared for potential demonstrations in support of and against the prime minister outside the District Court in east Jerusalem where the trial will take place. Several of Netanyahu’s Likud party ministers, including the newly appointed minister responsible for police, said they would appear in the courtroom in support of the prime minister.
Netanyahu’s court appearance Sunday comes after more than a year of political turmoil, with three inconclusive elections — each seen as a referendum on Netanyahu — finally ending last month when the Israeli leader and his main rival, former army chief Benny Gantz, came to a power-sharing deal.
They are set to hold their first Cabinet meeting just hours before the trial opens.
As part of their power-sharing deal, Netanyahu will remain prime minister for the next 18 months and will not be legally required to step down during his trial.
Last week the court ordered that Netanyahu appear for his arraignment, rejecting a request by his lawyers that the trial commence without him.
Netanyahu’s trial was supposed to begin in March, but was delayed by his justice minister following restrictions imposed on the courts amid the coronavirus crisis.
Netanyahu was indicted in November after a three-year investigation. He is alleged to have accepted lavish gifts from wealthy friends and traded favors with powerful media moguls for favorable coverage of him and his family.