Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at courthouse for start of corruption trial


A big court room drama has begun in Jerusalem today the state of Israel versus Benjamin Netanyahu the longest serving prime minister in Israel's history is now the country's first sitting prime minister to face criminal charges while still in office if convicted he could spend years behind bars corruption scandals are brought down other leaders in Israel but not Netanyahu's just begun a new term NPR's Daniel Estrin is joining us now from the courthouse and we should say there is some delay on the line Daniel what was the scene when the turn of a right to the courthouse and he gave a surprise fifteen minute speech on live TV he was surrounded by some of his ministers any alleged that this is all one big conspiracy he said the police justice officials the media are all trying to take me down he said the left wing doesn't like that I won't remove Jewish settlements in the west bank and the left wing couldn't vote me out for more than a decade so they're trying to take me down in courts we journalists were in the courthouse we watched the hearing on closed circuit TV screens everyone in the courthouse wore face masks including Netanyahu and throughout the whole hearing you could hear Bibi Netanyahu supporters right outside the courtroom and the courthouse if they were with loud speakers they were playing music they were singing BB king of Israel so no backing down either from the prime minister or his supporters quickly remind us what charges he's facing well the most serious charges bribery he's accused of using his power to pull strings with government regulations to help a media mogul make hundreds of millions of dollars and in exchange getting secret control over a leading news website he allegedly got to dictate what headlines and articles would appear and that apparently went on for years including he was running for reelection and then he's also charged with fraud and breach of trust for other alleged deals with other media moguls and Netanyahu's defense here is that the charge is totally bogus no leader in the history of democracy has ever been accused of bribery for press coverage what is expected for how the trial will play out and whether it will affect Netanyahu's new term in office well today the toenails lawyers argued that they need about a year and a half just to go over all the evidence and prepare before the trial can actually start in full swing and then when it does the entire trial could take a couple years more there are hundreds of witnesses his former aides may testify against him in court and he doesn't have to step down until a final conviction in the Supreme Court appeal if there is one so for years you know he will try to project in this as usual but every move he makes every decision he makes as a leader there will be speculation you know is he trying to distract from his trial this is never happened before an Israeli prime minister facing a criminal trial and also running a country at the same time what does this say about where Israel is right now but on the one hand I think it says it is a strong message that no one is above the law in Israel not even the prime minister on the other hand it's on you know is sending the message that he is an exception you know other senior officials who were indicted on corruption charges have resigned Netanyahu refuses and you know it shows that he is strong politically his political opposition is weak none of this for years all these bribery allegations none of it brought down that's on you know

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