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Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu pleads not guilty as corruption trial resumes

Israel’s prime minister appeared in court on Monday to formally deny charges of fraud and bribery as his corruption trial resumed in Jerusalem. Benjamin Netanyahu, who has dismissed the allegations as “fabricated and ludicrous,” was brought to the courthouse in a motorcade as protesters gathered outside to call for his resignation. During the brief hearing, he was asked to give a formal response to the charges against him. Mr Netanyahu spoke only to confirm he had given the court a written statement in which he vehemently denies all of the charges. He then left the hearing after around 20 minutes. A group of anti-Netanyahu protesters gathered outside the courtroom in east Jerusalem on Monday, chanting slogans and holding banners, one of which said “Crime Minister.” The protests were audible from inside the courtroom. Mr Netanyahu had urged his own supporters not to gather in large groups at the courthouse due to the risk of being exposed to coronavirus. During the hearing, Boaz Ben Zur, Mr Netanyahu’s lawyer, accused Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit of mishandling the case. Mr Ben Zur argued that elements of the investigation into the premier were opened without required authorisations. The complex trial is likely to continue for several years and has already faced multiple postponements due to the coronavirus pandemic. If he is found guilty, the prime minister faces up to a decade behind bars as well as a hefty fine. Mr Netanyahu strongly denies all the charges against him and has described the trial as a politically motivated “witch hunt.” The charges against Mr Netanyahu have been split up into three groups, known as Cases 4,000, 2,000 and 1,000. Case 4,000, the most serious charge sheet, accuses the prime minister of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He is alleged to have granted regulatory favours to a telecoms company in exchange for positive media coverage. Case 2,000 also alleges that the prime minister sought a special arrangement on positive coverage from an Israeli newspaper. Case 1,000 alleges that Mr Netanyahu and his family received gifts, including luxury cigars, champagne and jewellery worth around 700,000 shekels (£150,000), from wealthy friends in return for favours. Mr Netanyahu is standing for re-election this March and hopes that his success in vaccinating more than a third of the population against Covid-19 since December will hand him a decisive victory at the ballot box. He may be required to attend several trial hearings each week, though his allies in the ruling Likud party have called for the next stage of the trial to be postponed.



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