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Netanyahu launches into tirade ahead of bribe trial

PM lashes out at 'deep-state conspiracy'

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Charged: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (centre) speaks to his lawyer in court before the trial started. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Charged: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (centre) speaks to his lawyer in court before the trial started. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Charged: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (centre) speaks to his lawyer in court before the trial started. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a tirade against the nation's justice system as he arrived at court for the start of his corruption trial, accusing police and prosecutors of conspiring to "depose" him.

Mr Netanyahu's comments opened what is sure to be a tumultuous period for Israel as he becomes the country's first sitting prime minister ever to go on trial.

He faces charges of fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes in a series of corruption cases stemming from ties to wealthy friends.

He is accused of accepting lavish gifts and offering to grant favours to powerful media moguls in exchange for favourable coverage of him and his family. He denies the charges.

Mr Netanyahu entered the Jerusalem courtroom wearing a blue surgical mask. He stood and talked to his lawyer and lawyers for other defendants, refusing to sit until TV cameras left the room.

As the trial began, lawyers and judges also wore masks, with the three-judge panel sitting behind a glass divider.

His lawyers said they would need two to three months to respond to the arraignment, and that they needed additional funds to add to their defence's legal team.

Mr Netanyahu sat silently and did not speak during the one-hour session, rising just once, briefly, to confirm that he understood the charges.

He will not be required to attend future hearings during a case that legal analysts expect to stretch over several years. Throughout the proceedings, the loud chants of his supporters could be heard in the courtroom.

When he arrived at the courthouse, Mr Netanyahu revived his claims that he is the victim of a deep state-type conspiracy by media, police, prosecutors and judges out to oust him.

"The objective is to depose a strong, right-wing prime minister, and thus remove the nationalist camp from the leadership of the country for many years," he said.

He said police and prosecutors had conspired to "tailor" a case against him, and said the evidence was "contaminated" and exaggerated. He called for the court proceedings to be broadcast live on TV to ensure "full transparency".

"While the media continues to deal with nonsense, with these false, trumped-up cases, I will continue to lead the state of Israel and deal with issues that really matter to you," he said, including to resuscitate the economy and "continue to save the lives of thousands of Israelis ahead of the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus".

Critics have said Mr Netanyahu's "deep state" arguments have undermined Israel's court system and risk deeper damage to the country's democratic institutions.

Avi Nissenkorn, the country's new justice minister, defended the legal system just before Mr Netanyahu arrived in court.

Israel "is blessed with a quality justice system without bias," Mr Nissenkorn wrote on Twitter. "I have no doubt that the judicial process will be managed in a matter-of-fact and fair fashion."

Mr Netanyahu was forced to attend yesterday's hearing at the Jerusalem district court, after his request to have his lawyers represent him instead was rejected.

The dramatic scene came just days after the long-serving leader swore in his new government, breaking more than a year of political stalemate following three inconclusive elections. Mr Netanyahu held his first cabinet meeting with the new government just hours before heading to court.

Irish Independent