Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer Micha Fettman on Wednesday quit his defense team, days after the premier’s request for permission to receive funds from a foreign benefactor to pay his legal fees in his corruption trial was refused, and ahead of the next hearing in the case.
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 Arnon 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 and called the allegations baseless, saying accepting gifts from friends isn’t a problem.
Fettman previously represented Ehud Olmert’s former bureau chief Shula Zaken, until she turned state’s witness against the former prime minister. Zaken was freed from prison in 2015 after seven months. Olmert went on to spend 16 months in prison on graft charges.
Fettman was also formerly the attorney for Gilad Sharon, who was allegedly involved in the so-called Greek island corruption case, in which businessman David Appel was suspected of paying him a very high salary as a form of bribery intended for his father, prime minister Ariel Sharon. The case was closed due to lack of evidence in 2004.
Fettman has served as counsel for businessman Ze’ev Rubinstein, who has also been implicated in the so-called Case 4000, or Bezeq case, for which Netanyahu faces a bribery charge, in addition to other corruption charges.