Tel Aviv: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he is not guilty of one charge of bribery and three counts of fraud and breach of trust in a Jerusalem court.
On Monday, Netanyahu’s appearance has been in court since his corruption trial formally began in May.
Netanyahu, wearing a black mask, entered the court shortly after 9 am and confirmed that the plea of not guilty, previously filed in writing by his lawyers, represented his answer to the charges.
“I confirm the written response submitted in my name,” the prime minister told the judges.
Netanyahu, who is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to appear in court as an accused, is charged in three separate cases.
In the most severe case, Netanyahu is accused of promoting regulatory benefits worth more than 1 billion shekels (more than $ 300 million) in favor of a telecommunications company controlled by a millionaire friend, prosecutors say. In return, Netanyahu received favorable coverage from a news website, which even affects the wording and story selection, prosecutors claim.
Monday’s court hearing also discusses the trial timetable, especially when full evidentiary proceedings are to take place.
Israelis are voting in a general election in six weeks. As a possible indication of the prime minister’s willingness to delay the disclosure and calling of witnesses, one of his most loyal party colleagues called on judges to hold further hearings to set until after the vote on March 23rd.
The permission to proceed at this time would be “gross interference in the electoral process by the judiciary,” parliamentary speaker Yariv Levin told the newspaper Israel Hayom on Sunday.
Outside the court, dozens of anti-Netanyahu protesters gathered, many of whom had the now-famous “crime minister.”
His supporters were also in the number, and one of them had a banner with the words, “You will never walk alone, Netanyahu.”
The Prime Minister issued a statement on Sunday night urging followers to stay home due to the pandemic.
“I know you want to give me strength in the face of the accumulated and false affairs against me. But we are in a time of mutation spreading in the world, even in Israel, so for your health, I ask you – do not come tomorrow, ”reads the statement.
He continued in this statement to reiterate his claim that his trial attempted to remove a coup d’état from office.
“Everyone understands that this is a transparent attempt to overthrow a powerful prime minister from the right, thus creating a left-wing government led by [opposition leader Yair] Lapid.”
Under Israeli law, Netanyahu does not have to resign, although he is now on trial. Only if he is convicted and any conviction upheld by the appeal process would he be forced to relinquish his office.