Saturday 19 October 2019

Netanyahu starts legal battle to strike out charges

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Reuters

Raf Sanchez

Benjamin Netanyahu's lawyers have begun a last-ditch effort to avoid criminal charges being brought against him, as the Israeli prime minister's long-awaited corruption hearing opened in Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu faces bribery, fraud and breach of trust allegations related to a series of long-running scandals that have threatened to topple his 13-year premiership.

Under Israeli law, defendants are entitled to a pre-indictment hearing - an opportunity to confront the evidence against them and try to convince prosecutors not to bring charges. The hearing began yesterday morning behind closed doors at the Ministry of Justice. The prime minister, who has denied any wrongdoing, did not attend.

The most serious charge against Mr Netanyahu is that he changed regulations to benefit the Israeli telecoms company Bezeq. In return, he allegedly sought more positive coverage from a news website owned by Bezeq's main shareholder. He is also accused of offering a deal to the publisher of national newspaper 'Yedioth Ahronoth' to help weaken a rival paper in return for better coverage, and of having illegally accepted lavish gifts from wealthy businessmen.

Amit Hadad, one of Mr Netanyahu's lawyers, expressed confidence that the charges would be dropped. "We're sure that when we finish, there will be no choice but to close the case," he said.

But legal experts say that while Mr Netanyahu may succeed in whittling down some of the charges, he is unlikely to convince prosecutors to close the case altogether. The final decision lies with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit - a former aide to Mr Netanyahu who has enraged the prime minister by moving ahead with the charges.

Irish Independent

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