Israel's Netanyahu to face indictment hearing after polls

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied the allegations against him (AFP Photo/RONEN ZVULUN)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will face a hearing after polls to defend himself against corruption allegations which have dogged his election campaign, the justice ministry said Monday.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit last month announced his intention to indict the premier on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, following up on police recommendations.

But before formally bringing charges against the longtime premier, Mandelblit said there will be a hearing in which Netanyahu will be given the chance to defend himself.

"The hearings shall take place before July 10," the justice ministry said in a statement which told the relevant parties to prepare.

The investigation files will be made available to lawyers on April 10, the day after elections, ruling out the possibility of a hearing taking place before the polls.

If Netanyahu is re-elected and goes on to be charged, he will become the first Israeli premier to serve under indictment.

The prime minister has blamed his political opponents for what he called a "witch-hunt" intended to force him from office -- though he appointed Mandelblit as attorney general.

The allegations against Netanyahu involve gifts such as pricey cigars and champagne, as well as positive media coverage in exchange for changes to existing regulations.

A month ahead of elections, Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party stands in second place in opinion polls, behind the centrist Blue and White alliance.

The latter is led by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz and ex-finance minister Yair Lapid, but even if it gains the most seats it is unclear if it would be able to form a coalition.