Feb. 18 (UPI) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s trial on corruption charges will begin March 17, two weeks after Israel’s March 2 election, court officials announced Tuesday.
Despite speculation the Jerusalem District Court would opt to begin the trial sooner, it instead opted to wait until after the election, the country’s third within a year, in which a politically vulnerable Netanyahu will face a strong challenge from top challenger Benny Gantz.
The panel of judges for the trial was set earlier this month, composed of Rivkah Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham.
The March 17 start date could be delayed if Netanyahu’s defense team requests his arraignment be postponed or demand additional evidence. They are also expected to request he not be required to appear in court should he remain prime minister or serve in another position after the election.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit filed an indictment against Netanyahu within hours after the prime minister withdrew a request for immunity from prosecution on Jan. 28.
The Israeli leader is charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in the three cases, including allegations of receiving lavish gifts and agreeing to pursue legislation and regulatory outcomes in exchange for favorable press coverage.
Gantz, the leader of Israel’s Blue and White party, has said he will seek to form a government without Netanyahu or predominately Arab parties if he wins the upcoming election. He said he would form a unity government with Netanyahu’s Likud party only if the prime minister resigns.