Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, claimed at the start of his corruption trial that the proceedings have been orchestrated by his political opponents to oust him from power.
The proceedings mark the first time in Israel’s history that a serving leader has stood trial.
In a televised statement, the Israeli leader told the Jerusalem District Court that the objective of the trial was to “depose a strong, right-wing prime minister, and thus remove the nationalist camp from the leadership of the country for many years.”
Netanyahu also accused prosecutors of conspiring to “tailor” a case against him, and claimed that the evidence that led to his indictment was “contaminated.”
He called for the trial to be broadcast live to ensure transparency.
The 70-year-old faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and has been indicted in three separate cases. In two of those cases, he is accused of granting favors to media executives in exchange for flattering news coverage of him and his family. The third case alleges that he received bribes from powerful businessmen.
Hundreds of demonstrators assembled outside Netanyahu’s residence ahead of the court hearing, shouting slogans such as “crime minister,” and a group of his supporters held a rally outside the courthouse.
Israelis are deeply divided over the process, well illustrated by the country’s highly fractured government. Three inconclusive elections, spanning over more than a year, have resulted in an uneasy coalition between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Blue and White, led by former army chief Benny Gantz.
The trial is expected to be a drawn-out legal battle and Netanyahu will remain prime minister during the process. As part of the deal with Blue and White, Bibi will step down after 18 months and hand the reins over to Gantz.
The charges of wrongdoing also extend to Netanyahu’s wife, Sara. Last year, she agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors over allegations that she had misused state funds. Under the deal, she said that she would reimburse the state $12,440 and pay $2,770 in fines.
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