Ex-judge ‘pressured’ to quit panel that barred tycoons from funding PM’s defense
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Ex-judge ‘pressured’ to quit panel that barred tycoons from funding PM’s defense

Opposition chief calls for inquiry after State Comptroller’s Permits Committee head Oni Habash resigns, reportedly telling confidants he faced intense political pressure

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a signing ceremony for an agreement to build new apartments in Jerusalem, on March 11, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a signing ceremony for an agreement to build new apartments in Jerusalem, on March 11, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

The head of the state panel that just last month barred tycoon acquaintances from funding the legal defense of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resigned, reportedly over the “political pressure” to which he’s been subjected.

The Ynet news site reported Saturday that retired judge Oni Habash, the chairman of the State Comptroller’s Permits Committee, told associates that such pressures were what led him to the decision, which he even mentioned in his resignation letter that he submitted earlier this month.

However, the report did not elaborate on what exactly that pressure was or from which direction it was coming.

Responding to the resignation, opposition chair Shelly Yachimovich called on State Comptroller Yosef Shapira to urgently investigate the political pressures Habash mentioned.

She likened Habash’s decision to resign to something that would occur in the mafia and accused Netanyahu of refusing to accept “no” for an answer.

Habash had headed the three-person panel, which ruled in February that wealthy acquaintances could not foot Netanyahu’s hefty legal bills in the pending corruption indictment he faces.

Retired Judge Oni Habash. (GPO)

The prime minister’s legal team has petitioned the High Court of Justice against the decision, and the top legal body is slated to hand down its decision on Monday.

The committee had also ruled that funds already received from Netanyahu’s associates were improper, and that he would have to return $300,000 to his cousin Nathan Milikowsky and business attire given by American millionaire Spencer Partrich.

After State Comptroller Yosef Shapira’s office in December denied Netanyahu’s request for permission to have businessman Milikowsky, who is based in the US, and Partrich cover his legal fees, the premier’s defense team in January filed a renewed request asking for permission to receive a million dollars in the first phase and $2 million later on. Netanyahu also reportedly said he would pay $100,000 out of pocket to help fund his legal defense.

Spencer Partrich (Courtesy)

That request was also rejected.

At the end of last month, after the Permits Committee decision, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, in all three of the cases against the prime minister.

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. In its December decision, the Comptroller’s Permits Committee said it was inappropriate for non-Israeli benefactors to pay for his legal defense in a criminal case relating to the premier receiving funds from wealthy benefactors.

Last year, both Milikowsky and Partrich were questioned by police in the investigation dubbed Case 1000, in which the prime minister and his wife were suspected of receiving some NIS 1 million ($282,000) in illicit gifts from businessmen in return for certain benefits.

In addition to the investigation into the gifts he received from billionaire 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, as well as lesser charges of fraud and breach of trust in the other two affairs.

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing in the cases and vows to still lead his Likud party after the coming Knesset elections.

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