Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded not guilty to corruption charges.
The Israeli leader entered his plea in a courtroom Monday morning. Charges included bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in multiple cases where he has been accused of granting illegal favors to a telecom giant in exchange for favorable coverage, and he has been accused of accepting about $200,000 in gifts from two businessmen in exchange for granting political favors.
Netanyahu spent only about 20 minutes in the courtroom, speaking up twice only to affirm his lawyers’ response to the charges and to thank the court before he abruptly left.
The prime minister, who has maintained his innocence since the trial began in May 2020, was due in court in January to respond to the charges, but it was delayed as a result of the monthlong nationwide coronavirus lockdown, which he implemented.
Netanyahu’s legal team unsuccessfully argued to the judges that the case should be delayed further based on technicalities, which they claimed amounted to a “violation of basic law.”
He urged followers not to show up to support him at the courthouse because of the pandemic. He discouraged it in a social media post on Sunday where he said, “Everyone already sees that the witch-hunt against me is crumbling, everyone understands that this is a transparent attempt to overthrow a strong prime minister from the Right.”
An election in Israel, the fourth in two years, will be held on March 23.