Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said he will ask Parliament for immunity from being prosecuted in three corruption cases against him - a politically-risky move that could delay his criminal trial for months.
Netanyahu made the announcement on live television, just four hours before a deadline to apply for immunity was set to expire.
Netanyahu was indicted in November on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust over allegations he granted state favors worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israeli media barons in return for gifts and favorable coverage.
He denies any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media and left-wing opponents.
A trial cannot get under way once an immunity request is made.
Had Netanyahu not filed the request by Wednesday's deadline, the indictment against him could have been submitted to a court and be allowed to move forward as early as Sunday.
Amid deep political deadlock in Israel, parliament seems unlikely to decide the issue before Israel’s March 2 election.
Netanyahu will need the support of more than half of Parliament's 120 legislators for immunity to be granted.
That same majority eluded him in attempts to form a government after elections in April and September.
If immunity is ultimately granted, Israel’s Supreme Court could review the decision and potentially strike it down.
Netanyahu’s request also carries political risks, adding more ammunition to challengers who seek to portray him as an autocratic leader who sees himself as above the law and who represents a danger to Israel’s democratic and judicial foundations.
Responding to Netanyahu’s speech Wednesday, his main rival, Benny Gantz, who heads the centrist Blue and White party, said the prime minister was “jeopardizing the civic principle upon which we were all educated - that everyone is equal before the law”.