Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday he would seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution in the three graft cases he faces, a move that could delay criminal proceedings against him for months.
Netanyahu was indicted in November on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust over allegations he granted state favours worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israeli media barons in return for gifts and favourable coverage.
He denies any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media and left to oust a popular right-wing leader.
A trial cannot get under way once an immunity request is made, and Netanyahu announced the politically risky move in a speech on live television just four hours before a deadline for an application was to expire. He said in his address that the charges against him were politically motivated and he was entitled to parliament's protection.
Amid deep political deadlock, parliament seems unlikely to decide the issue before Israel's March 2 election. Netanyahu will need the support of 61 of its 120 legislators for immunity to be granted, the same majority that eluded him in attempts to form a government after national ballots in April and September.