Israel's longest-serving PM to stand trial for suspected corruption

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JERUSALEM, May 24 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's long-awaited criminal trial is set to begin in a Jerusalem courtroom on Sunday, marking the first time Israel will see an incumbent prime minster stand trial.

Netanyahu will face the opening hearing of his corruption trial at the Jerusalem District Court at 3 p.m. local time (1200 GMT), after a three-judge panel rejected last week his request to skip the opening hearing.

His charges on bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases will be read and he will be requested to announce his understanding of them, as part of the regular procedure in Israeli proceedings.

Even before its opening, the trial has become a clashing point between Netanyahu and his supporters and Israel's legal system.

Netanyahu and his allies frequently lash out at the legal system over the trial, with much of the fire focusing on Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit.

The 56-year-old official was a close ally of Netanyahu when the prime minister nominated him as the attorney general in 2016, but after he took the unprecedented move and pressed charges against a sitting leader, he became a frequent target of attacks by Netanyahu's supporters.

On Thursday, Minister for Cyber and National Digital Matters, David Amsalem, a close ally of Netanyahu, slammed Mandelblit, calling him an "alleged criminal."

In an interview for Israel's Army Radio, Amsalem called on to launch an investigation against Mandelblit, charging the attorney general was involved in illegalities around the appointment of the military's chief 10 years ago.

Yariv Levin, Likud's speaker of the parliament and Netanyahu close associate, said in a statement on Sunday that the opening of the trial "will be remembered as one of the low points of the Israeli legal system."

"Likud voters don't believe the premise created by prosecutors," Amir Ohana, public security minister and one of the ministers who plan to accompany Netanyahu, told Channel 12 TV news.

Channel 12 TV reported that "thousands" of Netanyahu's supporters plan to rally outside the court and in several locations in Jerusalem to protest against the opening of the trial.

According to the indictment, in a corruption affair dubbed "Case 4000," Netanyahu allegedly took bribes from Shaul Elovitch, a former control-holder of Bezeq, Israel's largest telecom company, by giving Bezeq financial and regulatory benefits.

During the alleged offenses, Netanyahu was the communication minister in addition to his capacity as prime minister.

In exchange, Elovitch, a close friend of Netanyahu, allegedly required Walla, a news site controlled by Elovitch, to provide favorable coverage of the Netanyahu and his wife Sara.

In "Case 1000," Netanyahu and his family allegedly received expensive cigars, champagne, and jewellery worth about 1 million new shekels (268,200 U.S. dollars) from the Israeli businessman and Hollywood tycoon, Arnon Milchan, between 2007 and 2016.

In "Case 2000," Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, one of Israel's largest newspapers, allegedly held talks over an exchange deal, in which Netanyahu would receive favorable coverage in Yedioth Ahronoth.

Netanyahu, the first prime minister in Israel's history to stand trial while in office, denies the allegations, charging they are part of "a witch hunt."

The trial, including the expected appeals, could take several years. Enditem

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