Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's long-awaited pre-indictment hearing on corruption charges began Wednesday in Jerusalem as his lawyers pledged to convince prosecutors to drop the cases against him.
Netanyahu is currently struggling to prolong his lengthy rule by building a unity government with his primary opponents, the centrist Blue and White party, who refuse to partner with him because of the serious crimes of which he is suspected.
Israel's attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, has recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing, calling them part of a media-orchestrated witch hunt. The allegations against him include suspicions that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of champagne and cigars from billionaire friends, offered a critical publisher legislation that would weaken his paper's main rival in return for softer treatment and allegedly used his influence to help a wealthy telecom magnate in exchange for favorable coverage on a popular news site.
Netanyahu has long promised he'd clear his name in the hearing. A team of his lawyers arrived at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem to argue that all charges should be dropped.
"We are going to present not only the evidence everyone is aware of but also new evidence. We are sure that once we present our findings there will be no choice but to close the case," Netanyahu attorney Amit Haddad said, upon entering the hearing. "We believe and know that at the end of the day all the three cases must be closed."
Another attorney, Ram Caspi, was confident that Mandelblit would reach his decision "in a professional manner, ignoring the background noises".
"The prime minister is not above the law, but neither is he below it," he said.
The sessions are expected to extend over four days. It could take several weeks for the attorney general to render his final decision. However, legal experts say the likelihood of an indictment is very high given the mountains of evidence collected by police over years of investigations and the prosecution's seeming consensus of pursuing a trial.
Although Netanyahu would not be required to step down if charged, he will face heavy pressure to do so. Already, he hasn't been able to muster the required 61-seat majority in parliament to build a coalition government and faces stiff resistance from those he will need to back him.