İrem UZUN -TDO- An Israeli court has ordered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appear for the opening of his criminal trial in Jerusalem on Sunday, shortly after his lawyer sought an exemption. The prime minister’s legal team had requested an exemption from attending the high-profile first hearing scheduled for Sunday, the culmination of years of police investigations and intense public focus. Defense lawyers had argued their client was already aware of the allegations against him and that the number of bodyguards needed for his security detail would strain coronavirus restrictions against large gatherings indoors.

The court rejected the request, saying “This is the case in every criminal trial, and so too in the current criminal procedure. We have not found that there is any reason for the applicant to justify an exception to this rule”. Netanyahu "must, like all other accused, appear and give his statement before the court," the judges wrote.

Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, was indicted in three criminal cases last November on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. He has called the trial a politically motivated "witch hunt" and denied any wrongdoing in the series of scandals that involved allegedly accepting lavish gifts from wealthy friends and trading media reforms for positive coverage. Netanyahu's trial was supposed to begin last month but was delayed by his justice minister due to the coronavirus pandemic. Proceedings in Jerusalem are expected to be brief, with the court reading out charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

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