JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on trial Sunday on three cases of fraud, corruption and breach of trust. If convicted, Netanyahu faces years in jail. He maintains his innocence and accuses the justice system of trying to engineer a coup against him.
Benjamin Netanyahu had already made history as the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history. Sunday, he did it again, becoming the first sitting prime minister to go on trial for fraud and breach of trust. He arrived at the court from a Cabinet meeting of his new national unity government.
Outside the prime minister’s house, hundreds of Israelis demonstrated against Netanyahu, calling on him to resign. Outside the courthouse in east Jerusalem, a similar number rallied for Netanyahu.
Before entering the courtroom, Netanyahu lashed out against the court and the media, insisting that he is innocent of all charges.
He said the trial is an attempt at a political coup against the will of the people. He said he will continue to fight and continue to lead the state of Israel.
Netanuyahu entered the small courtroom that seats about 20 people with two of his lawyers, and refused to sit on the defendant's bench until photographers had been removed from the courtroom.
The judges then read the charges against him, including fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu is accused of performing favors in exchange for both gifts totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, and positive press coverage.
His attorneys said they needed several more months to study all of the materials, a request the prosecution said was unnecessary as the indictment was filed over a year ago.
The trial is expected to take at least a year. In the new government formed earlier this month, Netanyahu is supposed to serve as prime minister for a year and a half, before turning the job over to his former rival and head of a centrist party, Benny Gantz.
A few months later, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is due to retire. The president is a mostly ceremonial, although prestigious, job in Israel. It also confers immunity from prosecution. Many in Israel believe that Netanyahu is already competing for this job.