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Netanyahu graft trial to start hearing evidence in January: judge

19 July 2020, MVT 19:05
(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. (Photo by RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)
19 July 2020, MVT 19:05

An Israeli court will start hearing evidence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial in January, the judge presiding over the case ruled Sunday.

Netanyahu has denied charges against him of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

The first hearing in the case was on May 24 and a second session was held Sunday, without Netanyahu in attendance.

In a transcript of the session obtained by AFP, Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman set out a timetable for the next stages of the trial, including the stipulation that Netanyahu must enter a plea in writing by October 18.

"The sides should prepare for the hearing of testimony starting from the month of January 2021, (with sessions) three times a week, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays," she wrote, without giving precise dates.

The trial is being held in the Jerusalem district court. Media restrictions are in place due to coronavirus precautions.

At the opening of the trial in May, Netanyahu asked for proceedings to be carried live on television, but cameras were banned from Sunday's session.

The longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, Netanyahu claims the charges against him -- filed by an attorney general that he appointed -- are part of a witch-hunt to drive him from office.

The prosecution has assembled over 300 witnesses to back its charges.

The trial had been due to open in March but was postponed to May 24 due to lockdown measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The charges allege that Netanyahu, the first prime minister in Israeli history to be indicted while in office, accepted improper gifts and sought to illegally trade favours with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage.

Israeli law professor Gad Barzilai has predicted that the proceedings will be "long and tedious."

Netanyahu's lawyers, he told reporters last week, were likely to seek further delays, asking for more prosecution documents and for a ruling that he is eligible for state aid toward his legal costs.

"The prosecution would like to end procedures in about two or three years," Barzilai said.

One of Netanyahu's top defence lawyers dropped his client last week, sources said, after the premier was denied permission to receive private funding for his legal team.

Jerusalem, Undefined | AFP

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