Coronavirus crisis delays start of Netanyahu corruption trial

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial was delayed on Sunday for two months, until May, due to the coronavirus crisis.

The Justice Ministry said the trial, which was due to have opened on March 17 with the reading of an indictment in three graft cases against Israel’s longest-serving leader, would begin on May 24 due to the outbreak of coronavirus.

Charges against him include bribery, breach of trust and fraud.

Netanyahu, 70, who is spearheading Israel’s measures to slow the spread of the virus, has denied any wrongdoing.

The prime minister was tested for the coronavirus as a precaution, his office said on Sunday. It did not announce the result but said he was asymptomatic before the test, which was also administered to those in his close proximity.

Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, is fighting for his political life after an inconclusive election on March 2, following ballots in April and September that also ended without a clear victor.

In his legal cases, Netanyahu is accused of wrongfully accepting $264,000 worth of gifts from tycoons, which prosecutors say included cigars and champagne, and of dispensing regulatory favors in alleged bids for improved coverage by a popular news website.

He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum three-year term for fraud and breach of trust.

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Edmund Blair