The High Court of Justice on Monday ruled that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could apply for a third time for permission to seek funding from wealthy foreign benefactors for his legal defense, despite being turned down twice previously.
Following deliberations in court, where Netanyahu was represented by Navot Tel-Zur, a senior member of his sizable legal team, a three-justice panel, headed by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, permitted a further hearing and said that Netanyahu’s attorneys could present their case verbally and would have to respond to any questions before a final ruling was made.
Oni Habash, a retired judge, headed the State Comptroller’s Permits Committee that ruled last month for a second time that wealthy acquaintances could not foot Netanyahu’s hefty legal bills in the pending corruption indictments he faces. It first turned him down in December.
The panel said it was inappropriate for non-Israeli benefactors to pay for the prime minister’s legal defense in a criminal case relating to his alleged receipt of funds from wealthy benefactors.
A report on the Ynet news website on Sunday said that Habash had resigned because, reportedly, he felt unable to withstand “political pressures” placed on him. The report did not elaborate what those pressures were, or who had applied them.
Apart from rejecting his two previous pleas, the committee also ruled that money Netanyahu had already received from associates was improper and ordered him to return $300,000 to his cousin Nathan Milikowsky, and to give back business attire to American millionaire Spencer Partrich.
The committee demanded that Netanyahu exhaust his own means of funding his defense before seeking financial help elsewhere.
At the end of last month, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he would indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, in three cases in which he has been investigated.
Milikowsky and Partrich were questioned by police last year in the investigation dubbed “Case 1000,” in which the prime minister is suspected of receiving some NIS 1 million ($282,000) in illicit gifts from businessmen in return for certain benefits.
In addition to the investigation about the gifts he received from wealthy benefactors, Netanyahu is suspected of corruption in two other probes — Cases 2000 and 4000 — involving potential quid pro quo deals for regulatory favors or beneficial legislation in exchange for positive media coverage.
Mandelblit has said he intends to indict Netanyahu for bribery in Case 4000 and lesser charges of fraud and breach of trust in the two other affairs. The prime minister has denied wrongdoing in the cases and has vowed to lead his Likud party after the upcoming Knesset elections.
Among the allegations in the cases against him, the prime minister is suspected of receiving benefits from rich benefactors in return for using his offices to advance their interests.