Israel’s Netanyahu must attend trial opening: Justice ministry

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Israel’s justice ministry said on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should not be exempted from attending the start of his corruption trial next week.

A Netanyahu spokesperson told AFP that the premier’s legal team had discussed the possibility of an exemption with the ministry.

But the power to grant such a request would lie with the Jerusalem court set to hear the case, which has said Netanyahu must attend.

In its statement just two days after the swearing-in of a unity government headed by Netanyahu following over a year of political deadlock, the justice ministry pointed to “the importance of justice being seen to be done, and of public trust” in the trial.

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Netanyahu’s trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust had been scheduled to start in March but was postponed to May 24 amid lockdown measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In a statement, the justice ministry reiterated its previous position that it “does not see reason to deviate from the distinguished court’s decision on the presence of the defendants.”

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Netanyahu denies allegations that he accepted improper gifts and sought to illegally trade favors with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage.

He is the first prime minister in Israel’s history to be indicted while in office.

Israel’s premier since 2009, Netanyahu extended his record tenure on Sunday when the parliament swore in a new three-year coalition government to end more than 500 days of political deadlock.

Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party, will lead the government for 18 months before vacating the premier’s office for his former rival Benny Gantz.

Netanyahu’s trial, including all appeals, could take several years.

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