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Israel PM Netanyahu faces final hearings in corruption cases

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a series of final hearings before a decision is made on whether to charge him with corruption.

His lawyers will try to persuade the attorney-general not to proceed with indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases.

Mr Netanyahu is alleged to have accepted gifts from wealthy businessmen and dispensed favours to try to get more positive press coverage.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

The attorney general is expected to reach a final decision by the end of December.

The hearing comes just over two weeks after Israel’s second general election in a year ended in deadlock.

Mr Netanyahu has been tasked by the president with forming a governing coalition, but talks between his right-wing Likud party and the centrist Blue and White alliance of his rival Benny Gantz have stalled.

A 12-strong legal team will mount a formal defence of Mr Netanyahu against the allegations of corruption that have plagued his most recent years in office.

The hearings, scheduled to last four days and end on Monday, will take place at the justice ministry in Jerusalem in front of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit.

The prime minister himself will not be present for the hearings, but he has categorically denied any wrongdoing and said he is the victim of a “witch-hunt” by his left-wing opponents and the media.

“Today, we will present all the evidence that everyone knows and some new evidence,” Amit Hadad, one of Mr Netanyahu’s lawyers, told reporters outside the justice ministry. “We believe that all three cases will be dropped after the hearings.”

Mr Netanyahu is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise, and there is currently no legal barrier to stop him staying in office as prime minister if the attorney-general makes a final decision to charge him in any of the three cases.

However, correspondents say many will question the prime minister’s ability to handle affairs of state if he is simultaneously defending himself in court.

Mr Gantz has vowed not to serve in a government under a prime minister facing criminal charges.

BBC

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