Netanyahu Attempt to Delay Start of Corruption Trial Founders

Amy Teibel

(Bloomberg) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to delay his corruption trial by requesting parliamentary immunity have run into trouble.

Parliament’s legal counsel ruled on Sunday that a vote on his petition could go ahead, even under a caretaker government. Netanyahu is all but assured to lose that vote, which means his trial could start shortly after.

Netanyahu knew he didn’t have majority backing in parliament when he asked for immunity earlier this month, but he was trying to buy time. He gambled that a key panel that must debate the petition wouldn’t be formed while a caretaker government is in place, and that his request -- and by extension, his trial -- would be delayed until after the March 2 election. If he’d win the election, then he’d be able to revive the immunity request before a sympathetic parliament.

But after parliament’s legal adviser said the panel could be formed now and that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, couldn’t block it, that stall tactic fizzled. The Blue and White bloc, Netanyahu’s biggest electoral challenger, said it would set the immunity vote process in motion.

Likud, in a last-ditch attempt to fend off an immunity vote, asked Israel’s highest court on Sunday to disqualify Knesset’s legal counsel, Eyal Yinon, from considering questions about immunity because his partner, a deputy attorney general, is involved in Netanyahu’s case, and he himself is to be called as a prosecution witness. The court hasn’t ruled.

The attorney general’s office told Netanyahu in November that he would be tried in three cases, on charges including bribery. He’s accused of abusing his position to take gifts from wealthy friends and scheming to benefit media moguls to win favorable coverage.Netanyahu and his loyalists say he’s the victim of a political witch hunt launched by rivals who oppose his nationalist agenda.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amy Teibel in Jerusalem at ateibel@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at asalha@bloomberg.net, Gwen Ackerman, Alisa Odenheimer

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