Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorney Navot Tel-Zur on Wednesday announced he was stepping down from his defense team in the graft cases against the premier, following disagreements in recent weeks over lack of payment.
Responsibility for the cases will be transferred exclusively to attorney Amit Hadad.
Tel-Zur made the announcement to the Permits Committee in the State Comptroller’s Office, a government oversight body.
Earlier this month, Tel-Zur refused to collect case files connected to the three corruption investigations against the prime minister as he had yet to be paid for his work.
Amid speculation that the prime minister is stalling in order to advance legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution, a spokesman for Netanyahu insisted Tuesday that the delay in accepting the case files was only due to his lawyers not having been paid.
This, the spokesman claimed, was the fault of the state for refusing to allow wealthy foreign benefactors to foot the prime minister’s legal bills.
Netanyahu’s attorneys are locked in a battle with the Permits Committee in the State Comptroller’s Office over his request to fund his defense with the help of overseas financiers. The committee has already rejected the request twice. On Sunday, it said it would only consider it for a third time once Netanyahu divulges details on his own assets, something he has so far refused to do.
The panel said it was inappropriate for non-Israeli benefactors to pay for the prime minister’s legal defense in a criminal case that alleges he received illicit gifts from wealthy individuals in Israel and abroad.
His spokesperson said Tuesday that rather than wait, “the prime minister and his attorneys reached a temporary arrangement to pay an advance on their fees in order to overcome the initial obstacle of examining the material for the hearing.”
The spokesperson added that “the prime minister insists on his right to receive financial aid for his legal protection, like any public figure, in view of the vast amounts that the state spent on his case.”
On Wednesday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he would postpone Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearings by three months, to October 2-3.
Hadad had asked the attorney general for a full-year delay, arguing that the scope of the documents was too large to review in three months.
Mandelblit refused that request, saying it was not in the public interest.
The attorney general announced his intention to indict Netanyahu for fraud and breach of trust in the three cases against him, and for bribery in one of them, in February.
Case 1000 involves accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors.
Case 2000 involves accusations that Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
And Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, involves accusations that Netanyahu advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from its Walla news site.
Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a political with hunt, is believed to be seeking legislation that could shield him from prosecution, or Knesset support for immunity and legislation that would defang the High Court’s ability to strike down Knesset decisions.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.