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Middle East

Israeli court tells Netanyahu he must appear at start of trial

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a swearing in ceremony of his new unity government with election rival Benny Gantz, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem

An Israeli court rejected on Wednesday a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be absent from the opening of his corruption trial next week, saying he must abide by the practice of hearing the charges in person.

A week after being sworn into office for a fifth term, Netanyahu, 70, will go on trial on May 24, charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

He was indicted in three criminal cases last November. He denies all wrongdoing.

CASE 4000 alleges Netanyahu granted regulatory favours worth around 1.8 billion shekels (about $500m) to Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq Telecom Israel.

In return, prosecutors say, he sought positive coverage of himself and his wife on a news website controlled by the company’s former chairman, Shaul Elovitch.

Netanyahu had asked Jerusalem District Court to be excused from his May 24 arraignment, deeming the event a formality and arguing that bringing his bodyguards would be a waste of public funds and a strain on coronavirus rules against congregations.

Some critics, however, believed Netanyahu was trying to reduce the optics of the first criminal prosecution of a sitting Israeli prime minister.

The court said in response it could accommodate Netanyahu’s security detail, though it declined his additional request to bring a larger legal retinue.

“It is incumbent upon the requester, as with all other defendants, to appear and have his say in court,” the three-judge panel said in its ruling.

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