A lawyer convicted of tax offenses in 2017 has joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense team, Hebrew media reported Friday, days ahead of the second hearing in the premier’s trial.
Yossi Segev, one of the best known attorneys in the country, was convicted for evading NIS 2.4 million (approximately $695,000) in VAT and was sentenced to community service, probation and a fine, the Haaretz daily reported.
According to the Walla news site, there are also currently discussions about attorney Boaz Ben Tzur joining the premier’s legal team, though he is currently representing Hadas Klein, personal assistant of Arnon Milchen, who will be a key prosecution witness in Case 1000.
Klein has said the approach constituted a conflict of interest and violated her rights, the site reported.
The announcement of Segev’s appointment came days after Micha Fettman on Wednesday quit the team when Netanyahu’s request for permission to receive funds from a foreign benefactor to pay his legal fees in his corruption trial was refused.
The second hearing in Netanyahu’s trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes is set to take place on July 19, but last week the Kan public broadcaster reported that Fettman was expected to resign in a tactic to delay that hearing.
The Haaretz daily reported that there were disagreements between Fettman and chief defense attorney Amit Hadad, also noting that the team is now expected to request a postponement of the second hearing. Fettman only joined Netanyahu’s defense team in recent weeks.
The makeup of Netanyahu’s legal team has been hampered by the Permits Committee at the State Comptroller’s Office repeatedly rejecting the prime minister’s requests, most recently last week, for permission to accept donations from wealthy benefactors for his legal expenses, and instructing him to return funds he had already received.
Netanyahu had asked the oversight committee to allow a NIS 10 million ($2.9 million) donation from Spencer Partrich, a Michigan-based real estate magnate. Because Partrich also happens to be a witness in one of the cases, the committee had asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit for his opinion on the matter.
Last week Mandelblit told the committee he opposed Netanyahu’s request, saying the donation was tantamount to an illicit gift.
In a letter sent to Netanyahu’s attorneys, committee secretary Eden Bizman said that the request did not meet the rules for receiving a gift in accordance with the law.
The committee also said it will not renew discussions on a retroactive request for Netanyahu to receive some $300,000 in funds for legal fees from his cousin Nathan Milikowski. Since the request was previously rejected by the committee, Netanyahu will have to pay back the funds to Milikowski.
At the opening of the trial, Fettman had told the judges that the size of the cases meant that he needed extra time to hire more lawyers and then three or four months for them to go over the cases.
Netanyahu’s trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes opened in May in a Jerusalem court. The accusations include accepting some $200,000 in gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires, Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.
Netanyahu is also accused of offering to push legislation benefiting powerful Israeli media moguls in exchange for more positive coverage in their publications.
Netanyahu has said he is the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy, in which the left-wing opposition, media, police and state prosecutors are attempting a political coup to oust him, and called the allegations baseless, saying accepting gifts from friends isn’t a problem.