The corruption trial for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will begin March 17, just two weeks after national elections are held, a court said Tuesday.
The surprise announcement immediately shook up the final stretch of the contentious election campaign, upending Netanyahu’s attempts to divert attention away from his legal woes. It also could weaken his ability to form a new government after the vote by raising doubts among potential coalition partners about his ability to govern.
Netanyahu is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust under a number of cases in which he is alleged to have accepted lavish gifts from billionaire friends and exchanged regulatory favours for more positive media coverage. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has denied any wrongdoing.
In a brief statement, the court said Netanyahu is expected to attend the initial hearing.
Israel will hold a parliamentary election on March 2, its third vote in less than a year. The first two were largely a referendum on Netanyahu and the third is expected to be no different. The two elections in 2019 failed to yield a conclusive result.
Since he was indicted in November, Netanyahu’s campaign has tried to make voters forget about the looming trial by portraying him as a global statesman and focusing on his close relationship with President Donald Trump.
His challenger, former military chief Benny Gantz, has sought to highlight Netanyahu’s legal troubles, arguing that he is unfit to serve as prime minister while he is a defendant.
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