Israeli court rejects Netanyahu's request to delay trial

Prime minister's lawyers asked for a delay after saying they had not received all the prosecution's case material.

    The long-ruling Israeli leader denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a media-orchestrated witch-hunt [Ammar Awad/Reuters]
    The long-ruling Israeli leader denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a media-orchestrated witch-hunt [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

    A court in Israel on Tuesday rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's request to delay the start of his corruption trial, ruling it would begin as planned next week.

    Lawyers for Netanyahu - the first Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office - had told the Jerusalem district court they had not received all the prosecution's case material and asked for a 45-day delay.

    State prosecutors responded that they oppose any delays, and the court accepted their position.

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    In overruling the request, the presiding judge wrote that the first session on March 17 was a reading only and the defendant's response was not needed. Therefore, there was no justification for a delay.

    Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes in connection with a series of scandals that include accepting expensive gifts from wealthy friends and offering to exchange favours with powerful media moguls.

    The long-ruling Israeli leader denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a media-orchestrated witch-hunt.

    His legal troubles stood at the centre of last week's third inconclusive Israeli election in less than a year.

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    Netanyahu's opponent, Benny Gantz, refused to sit with him in government and appears poised to push for legislation in the incoming parliament that would bar anyone indicted of a crime being able to lead a government.

    The anti-Netanyahu forces in the incoming parliament command a 62-58 majority, but are deeply divided among themselves.

    Israel's longest-serving leader is desperate to remain in office, because installing a new government would give him an important political boost and potentially allow him to legislate his way out of the legal quagmire.

    Amit Haddad, one of Netanyahu's lawyers, had said he would seek a delay in the start of the trial.

    The request was "technical" and meant to give the defence time to review investigative materials that it still had not received, he said.

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    SOURCE: News agencies