Israeli court orders Netanyahu to appear at trial’s opening

JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli court on Wednesday ordered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appear for the opening of his criminal trial in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Netanyahu’s attorneys had asked the Jerusalem District Court for an exemption from appearing for the opening of proceedings. They argued that his presence was “not essential” for the arraignment because their client had “read this indictment several times already,” and that his bodyguards’ presence in the room would violate Health Ministry social distancing requirements.

The court rejected the request, saying Netanyahu “must, like all other accused, appear and give his statement before the court,” and that there were no grounds for granting him an exemption in this case.

Netanyahu was indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes last year. He has denied any wrongdoing in the series of scandals involving accepting lavish gifts from wealthy friends, trading media reforms for positive coverage.

Netanyahu’s trial was supposed to begin last month, but was delayed by his justice minister due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Netanyahu swore in his fourth consecutive government earlier this week after the country’s third national election in under a year. From his position as prime minister, he is not legally required to resign while under indictment and is expected to continue his verbal attacks on the media, justice system, and political opponents.

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