JERUSALEM – Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial begins on Sunday in a court in Jerusalem, where he will become the first serving Israeli prime minister to be prosecuted in a case he calls a political witch-hunt.
Netanyahu is due to appear before the Jerusalem district court hearing a week after being sworn to a record fifth term as head of a unitary government, ending more than a year of political stalemate after three ambiguous elections.
He was charged in November with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases with gifts from millionaire friends and allegedly seeking regulatory favors for media magnates in exchange for favorable reporting.
Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, has brought his prosecution as a left-wing witch hunt intended to oust a popular right-wing leader.
As prime minister, Netanyahu has no legal obligation to resign and has said his lawsuit will not affect his ability to do his job.
A panel of three judges will hear his case. Wednesday declined his request to stay away from the opening session.
In his request to be apologized, Netanyahu called the event a formality and argued that bringing his contingent bodyguards would waste public funds and make it difficult to respect social distance rules.
Some critics said Netanyahu was trying to avoid the optics of a prime minister sitting on the defendant’s dock.
The court turned down his request and said it is important that justice is done.
Six years ago, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was found guilty of taking bribes and spent 16 months in prison. His trial took place after his tenure from 2006-2009.