Israeli PM's corruption trial postponed due to coronavirus

1010 WINS Newsroom
March 15, 2020 - 3:13 am

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech from his Jerusalem office on Saturday, March 14, 2020, saying Israel's restaurants and places of entertainment will be closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus. He also encouraged people not to go to their workplaces unless absolutely necessary. (Gali Tibbon/Pool via AP)

JERUSALEM (AP) — A Jerusalem district court announced on Sunday that it was postponing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's criminal trial for two months because of restrictions arising from the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Netanyahu was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday to face charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in connection to a series of scandals.

But following the emergency health measures the government enacted restricting the gathering of people in public places, the court announced that it was pushing back the hearing until May 24.

Netanyahu is accused of receiving expensive gifts from wealthy friends and offering to exchange favors with powerful media moguls. The long-ruling Israeli leader denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a media-orchestrated witch hunt.

Netanyahu's lawyers had previously appealed for a delay, saying they needed more time to review evidence. But it was swiftly rejected on ground that the March 17 hearing was a procedural reading of the charges only and the defendant's response was not needed.

But after Netanyahu announced a new series of coronavirus-related restriction late Saturday, including the barring of gathering more than 10 people, the justice ministry announced a state of emergency in the courts as well.

The virus has spread to more than 100 countries and infected more than 150,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,700. In Israel, some 200 people have been infected with no casualties yet, as severe measures seem to have proven effective thus far.

Netanyahu's legal troubles stood at the center of Israel's third national election in less than a year. Like elections last April and September, the March 2 vote also ended inconclusively.

Netanyahu's opponent, Benny Gantz, refuses to sit with him in government and has been looking to push for legislation in the incoming parliament that would bar anyone indicted for a crime being able to lead a government — in effect disqualifying Netanyahu from leading the country.

But the coronavirus crisis has raised calls for an emergency unity government instead.

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