Court orders Netanyahu to return late cousin’s $300,000 gift to cover legal fees

Judges rule that money given by Nathan Milikowsky was forbidden gift to public servant, but loan provided by billionaire Spencer Patrich can be paid back according to agreed terms

Likud chief and opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media in Tel Aviv, October 3, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Likud chief and opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media in Tel Aviv, October 3, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice ordered opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday to return $300,000 to the estate of his deceased cousin and former benefactor, Nathan Milikowsky, ruling that the funds were an illicit gift.

The court ruled that money received by Netanyahu and his wife Sara, while he served as prime minister, to fund their legal fees was a forbidden gift to a public servant.

The justices ruled that although the two 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.

According to remarks made by Milikovski quoted by then-attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, the funds were provided “to free him [Netanyahu] from financial worries while he served in an important public role.”

Justices also ruled that a NIS 2 million ($566,000) loan he 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 was approved by the comptroller and attorney general.

The good governance group Hatnua L’Tohar Hamidot welcomed the decision, labeling the acceptance of such funds “invalid and dangerous.”

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

In November, Mandelblit said that Netanyahu should return a total of $900,000 to the two businessmen ($300,000 to Milikowsky and $600,000 to Partrich), after a High Court ruling in July 2021 ordered the then-attorney general, the State Comptroller’s Permits Committee and the opposition leader to explain why the money he received from Milikowsky was not an illicit gift, and why he should not be ordered to return it in full.

The State Comptroller’s Permits Committee decided in 2019 that Netanyahu only had to return $30,000 of the total funds from Milikowsky but did not have to return the rest of the money on the grounds that it was used in the legal defense of his wife.

A separate case known as the “stock affair” was closed by Mandelblit in October 2020. It pertains to allegations that Netanyahu illicitly profited several million dollars from selling shares in a company to Milikowsky. Mandelblit’s office had been looking into the allegations for nearly a year and a half, after TV reports claimed Netanyahu made a suspicious return of over 700 percent on stocks he held in Seadrift Coke.

Mandelblit has acknowledged that the premier may have received significant benefits from his cousin in the affair but says it is not clear he did so knowingly. He has also noted that the statute of limitations has long expired for the potential suspicions of fraud and breach of trust in the 2007 case.

According to a Haaretz report, Partrich, known to have been close to Netanyahu for many years, bought in 2016 half of the then-premier’s Jerusalem childhood home from his younger brother Ido, essentially becoming Netanyahu’s business partner in a deal brokered by Netanyahu’s lawyer David Shimron.

Netanyahu, who is running to reclaim his role as prime minister in the November 1 elections, 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 the charges in all of the cases being brought against him.

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