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Netanyahu wants pre-trial hearing aired live so public can hear "my side"

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a nomination ceremony at Israeli President Reuven Rivlin's residence in Jerusalem September 25, 2019. Picture taken September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Thursday for his pre-trial hearing next week on corruption allegations to be broadcast live, saying that “the time has come for the public to hear everything, including my side”.

Following a deadlocked Sept. 17 election, Netanyahu is fighting for a fifth term in office that might confer legal immunity in three long-running cases that he has cast as a baseless and politically motivated witch-hunt.

Israel’s attorney-general, Avichai Mandelblit, has said he intends to file fraud and breach of trust charges against Netanyahu pending a hearing - an opportunity for a VIP suspect to argue that a trial is not in the national interest.

“After a three-year flood of tendentious, partial media leaks, the time has come for the public to hear everything, including my side,” Netanyahu said in a social media video.

“I am therefore asking the attorney-general to open up the hearing for live broadcast ... You know that transparency delivers the truth.”

Mandelblit’s office later turned the request down, saying it had no legal basis and was disrespectful of the legal process.

A hearing is a chance for a suspect to persuade legal authorities not to file charges, it is not meant to persuade the public, an attorney-general letter to Netanyahu’s lawyers said.

“The decision of whether to file an indictment is a professional decision divorced from any public sentiment political pressure or “background noise,” the letter said.

On Wednesday, the conservative Netanyahu was tapped to try to form the next coalition government after garnering marginally more support from lawmakers than his centrist election rival, Benny Gantz. Neither commands a clear parliamentary majority.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, William Maclean, Kirsten Donovan