Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Friday said that he will allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a loan from a friend, American businessman Spencer Partrich, to help fund his legal defense.
The announcement comes a week after State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman approved Netanyahu’s request to receive funding from Partrich, conditioning his decision on Mandelblit concluding that there would be no conflict of interest involved in transferring funds for that purpose. The attorney general’s team concluded that Partrich had no significant business connections in Israel and that the loan could thus go ahead.
The prime minister has long been seeking funding from wealthy benefactors for his defense in the three criminal cases against him, several of which involve suspicions he accepted illicit gifts from financiers whose business interests he promoted.
Some of the money Netanyahu is expected to receive from Partrich will go to pay back $300,000 he accepted from businessman Nathan Milikowsky, his cousin, which the Permits Committee in the State Comptroller’s Office said he must return.
The issue of the funding for Netanyahu’s legal defense in the three criminal cases he faces has been contentious. Over the past year, in addition to ordering him to return the funds to Milikowsky, the Permits Committee has three times rejected Netanyahu’s demand to be allowed to receive financial aid — worth up to $2 million — for his expenses.
But former comptroller Yosef Shapira was told by Mandelblit in June that he could approve a loan request despite the Permits Committee’s decision. Shapira, though said to be supportive in principle, did not take action before leaving office.
The office of his successor, Englman, said last week that the new comptroller had approved a loan that complies with market standards, on the condition that Netanyahu sign a declaration with the attorney general to prevent a conflict of interest.
The Movement for Quality Government called Englman’s action “a strange and suspicious decision.” It contended that in cases of alleged corruption such as the ones the prime minister is a suspect in, “we would expect a far more exacting attitude toward [possible] conflicts of interest.”
It accused Englman of “causing serious harm” to the status of the Permits Committee while “harming public trust in the government.”
In denying Netanyahu the financial help, the Permits Committee had said it was inappropriate for wealthy benefactors to pay for the prime minister’s legal defense in a criminal case relating to his alleged receipt of gifts from such benefactors in Israel and abroad, so-called Case 1000.
It also said such aid should be sought only if the public servant needs the financial help — and asked Netanyahu to submit an assessment of his assets and net worth. The prime minister refused to do so.
Three members of the committee resigned in August amid a dispute with Englman over the matter. Channel 13 reported on a July meeting between Englman and the committee’s members, in which the comptroller lashed out at them over their demand that Netanyahu return the money to Milikowsky, calling it an overstep of the committee’s authority.
Mandelblit has announced that he intends to indict Netanyahu in three criminal cases, one of which includes a charge of bribery. But first the prime minister is entitled to a hearing, which is set to take place in early October. He denies all wrongdoing and contends that the allegations against him are part of a left-wing conspiracy pushed by the media, whose unremitting “pressure” is compelling the attorney general to prosecute him.