Israel: Netanyahu corruption trial to intensify in January

Israeli prime minister is charged with fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes in a series of scandals.

    A demonstrator wears a mask of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and handcuffs in Jerusalem on Saturday [Ammar Awad/Reuters]
    A demonstrator wears a mask of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and handcuffs in Jerusalem on Saturday [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial will resume in January with witnesses and evidence given three times a week, a Jerusalem court ruled on Sunday.

    It was not immediately clear if Netanyahu will be required to be present at each hearing, although some Israeli media reported he would.

    The grueling judicial schedule will keep Netanyahu's legal woes firmly in the national consciousness and conversation, and continue to raise questions over whether he can keep serving while simultaneously standing trial.

    The court's decision came after the trial's second hearing, a procedural deliberation that set the pace for the remainder of the proceedings.

    Netanyahu's trial resumed on Sunday as the long-serving leader faces mounting discontent over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

    His lawyer asked for a delay in the proceedings because of the virus, saying mask-wearing impeded his job of questioning witnesses.

     

    At the first hearing in May, just before appearing in front of the judges, Netanyahu took to a podium inside the courthouse and flanked by his party members bashed the country's legal institutions in an angry tirade. The prime minister did not appear at Sundays hearing.

    Although his base remains firmly behind him, only a smattering of supporters turned up outside the court to voice their backing for the prime minister, far fewer than the throngs who converged at the trial's opening.

    'Media-orchestrated witch-hunt'

    Netanyahu, 70, is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals in which he is alleged to have received lavish gifts from billionaire friends and exchanged regulatory favours with media moguls for more agreeable coverage of himself and his family.

    Netanyahu denies wrongdoing, painting the accusations as a media-orchestrated witch-hunt pursued by a biased law enforcement system.

    Bribery charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in jail, while fraud and breach of trust carry a prison sentence of up to three years.

    JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - JULY 14: Thousands of Israeli light their phone during a rally near the Israeli Prime Minister's residence on July 14, 2020 in Jerusalem, Israel. Protesters demand Israeli Prime Mi
    The anti-government anger in Israel has sparked protests over the past few weeks that saw violent clashes with police [Getty Images]

    Widespread anger

    Netanyahu faces widespread anger over his government's handling of the coronavirus crisis. While the country appeared to have tamped down a first wave of infections, a hasty reopening sent infections soaring.

    But Netanyahu and his emergency government - formed with the goal of dealing with the crisis - appeared to neglect the numbers and moved forward with other policy priorities and its reopening plans.

    It has since paused them and even reimposed restrictions, including a weekend-only lockdown set to begin later this week.

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    Netanyahu's government has been criticised for its response to the new wave, which has seen daily cases rise to nearly 2,000. It has been slammed for its handling of the economic fallout of the crisis.

    The anger has sparked protests over the past few weeks that have culminated in violent clashes with police.

    On Saturday, police used water cannon to disperse demonstrators around Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence.

    In Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial hub, thousands gathered to demand better state aid to businesses hurt in the health crisis.

    While Israel has pledged billions of dollars worth of aid, it has not all been doled out to those in need.

    Is Netanyahu buying time?

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    Is Netanyahu buying time?

    SOURCE: News agencies