Compelled by court, Netanyahu pays back $270,000 gift to late cousin’s estate

Funding for legal fees ruled illicit by High Court in October; coalition tried to push bill allowing PM to keep money but postponed it after pressure by opposition and coalition

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a court hearing for a case against journalist Ben Caspit at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, on April 23. 2023.  (Tomer Appelbaum/POOL)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a court hearing for a case against journalist Ben Caspit at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, on April 23. 2023. (Tomer Appelbaum/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday returned $270,000 to the estate of his deceased cousin and former benefactor Nathan Milikowsky after the High Court of Justice ruled in October that the premier must give back the funds on the grounds that it was an illicit gift.

Netanyahu’s lawyers handed confirmation to State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman that the money was transferred. The latter requested that the prime minister’s representatives also provide proof that the money entered into the account.

The court determined in its ruling that the money, received by Netanyahu and his wife Sara to fund their legal fees while he served as prime minister during his last term, was a prohibited gift to a public servant.

Although Milikowsky and Netanyahu were cousins, business interests were a more dominant factor in the reason for the gift, and the money went way beyond what was acceptable as a routine gift between family members, judges said.

In January, the High Court rejected a bid by Netanyahu for an additional hearing on its judgment.

Milikowsky gave the Netanyahus $300,000 in 2017-2018 and was later paid back $30,000.

File: Nathan Milikowsky in 2013, in San Francisco (Drew Altizer Photography)

Milikowsky died in 2021 at the age of 78.

The coalition earlier this year proposed a bill that would allow public servants to keep money gifted to them for the purpose of covering medical and legal fees, and would have let Netanyahu keep the funds.

Work on the gifts law was postponed until the next Knesset session, which is set to begin on April 30, following a filibuster threat from the opposition as well as reports of heavy pressure from some coalition lawmakers.

It was widely slammed by critics as tailored to Netanyahu’s personal needs and decried by the Attorney General’s Office as “opening the door to corruption in the entire public service.”

In a similar case, justices ruled last year that a NIS 2 million ($566,000) loan Netanyahu received from real estate mogul Spencer Partrich was a forbidden gift, but could be repaid according to their agreement, with supervision from the state comptroller, since the loan had been approved by the comptroller and attorney general.

Netanyahu also faces fraud and breach of trust charges in a case involving illicit gifts received from other wealthy benefactors, one of three criminal cases he is currently on trial for.

Netanyahu has denied all charges against him.

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