Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial to start two weeks after Israeli election

Israel set for third election in less than a year

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 16, 2020 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs his weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 16, 2020. The trial of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges will open on March 17, the justice ministry said on February 18, 2020. It said the indictment would be read by judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman in the presence of Netanyahu in Jerusalem. The announcement comes as the 70-year-old prime minister campaigns ahead of March 2 elections, Israel's third in less than a year, after two previous polls resulted in a deadlock between Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz.
 / AFP / POOL / GALI TIBBON
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will stand trial in an Israeli court on corruption charges on March 17, only two weeks after parliamentary elections are held.

Mr Netanyahu is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust after allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands dollars worth of gifts from billionaire friends and exchanging regulatory favours for positive media coverage.

Israel's Justice Ministry said he would be required to attend the court in Jerusalem, where three judges will hear his case.

He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum three-year term for fraud and breach of trust.

Mr Netanyahu, who denies the charges, is the first sitting prime minister to be charged with a crime.

The election results could have a major impact on his trial. The prime minister has already backed down on a request for parliamentary immunity but his rivals in the Knesset had already indicated they would block any request

Israelis have been asked to go to the polls for the third time in less than a year after two failures to form a government.

Mr Netanyahu's biggest challenger is centrist and former military man Benny Gantz, who has focused heavily on the corruption charges and the Prime Minister's close relationship with US President Donald Trump.

Mr Gantz had refused after September elections to join a unity government led by Mr Netanyahu, saying he must first settle his legal problems before taking power.

The indictment accused Mr Netanyahu of causing "substantial harm" to the integrity of his position.

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