For third time, panel rejects PM’s request for outside funding of legal defense

For third time, panel rejects PM’s request for outside funding of legal defense

After Netanyahu refuses to give info on his finances and relationship with US billionaire, committee says he can’t accept funds

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an event marking one year since the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, on May 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an event marking one year since the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, on May 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

For a third time, the State Comptroller Permits Committee on Monday rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to use contributions from billionaire acquaintance Spencer Partrich to help foot his defense bills in a series of corruption cases he is facing.

The rejection came after Netanyahu’s defense team said it would not comply with the committee request to hand over a declaration of assets, as well as the full details of the relationship between Netanyahu and Partrich. The panel refused to grant the prime minister’s attorney a meeting to explain why information about Netanyahu’s assets should remain private.

“The request was rejected after the prime minister failed to fulfill an obligation to provide the details requested for a supplementary hearing on the petition, which has already been rejected twice,” the committee said Monday. “The committee did not receive the requested information regarding the prime minister’s assets in Israel and abroad, of any kind, without exception, and did not receive detailed information regarding his relations with the potential funders, and the answer to the question of why he needed their contributions.”

In a Monday statement, Netanyahu slammed the committee’s decision as “a shame,” and said its demand to examine his assets overstepped its authority.

“The permits committee has one job — to determine if there is a reasonable fear of a conflict of interest in the prime minister’s request to let Spencer Partrich, whose business interests have no ties to Israel, to fund his legal defense. A simple check is enough to conclude that there is no conflict of interest, and that should have been the end of the committee’s job,” Netanyahu’s statement said.

Spencer Partrich (Courtesy)

“It’s a shame that the committee decided to look into issues that are not under its purview, took advantage of its position to create unprecedented obstacles for the prime minister, and to deny him the basic right to defend himself in this legal proceeding. Such actions hurt the public trust in the entire system. The information the committee asked for…goes beyond its authority,” he insisted.

Netanyahu had also sought to receive money for his legal defense from his cousin, US businessman Nathan Milikowsky, but recently said he was withdrawing the request, and would instead appeal for funding from Partrich.

On Sunday, Netanyahu’s lawyers asked the committee to postpone the deadline for submitting the information for a further 30 days, but the committee rejected the request, the Walla news site reported.

The committee also affirmed on Monday that money Netanyahu had already received from associates for his legal defense was improper and ordered him to return the $300,000 to Milikowsky, and to give back business attire to Partrich.

The announcement is the latest development in an ongoing battle between Netanyahu’s attorneys and the oversight committee over the premier’s request to fund his defense with the help of overseas financiers.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira attends the presentation of the State Comptroller’s report at the Knesset, March 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira has said he would consider an arrangement whereby Netanyahu received a loan for the funding of his legal defense, if it were taken under commercial standards and the arrangement was approved by the attorney general as not constituting a conflict of interests, Channel 12 news reported.

Last month, a spokesperson for Netanyahu criticized the committee, saying “the Permit Committee is preventing the prime minister from receiving financial assistance for his legal defense, as opposed to other public figures who received assistance in their defense.”

The statement claimed that without such finances Netanyahu would not be able to hire lawyers to defend himself against looming indictments for fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases, and bribery in one of them.

It also said any information given to the committee would be “leaked in a questionable and offensive manner while seriously damaging the right to privacy that the prime minister is also entitled to,” the statement said. “The prime minister has the right to defend himself against an indictment, the purpose of which is to bring down the prime minister and replace the rule in an undemocratic way.”

The Permits Committee has said that it expects the prime minister to comply with a High Court decision from March in which Netanyahu agreed to provide any details the committee requested. Netanyahu had appealed to the High Court after the committee, for the second time, refused to grant him permission for donors to pay his legal fees.

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

Netanyahu has previously unsuccessfully sought permission from Israeli authorities for Milikowsky to fund his legal defense.

In February the Permits Committee ruled for a second time that wealthy acquaintances could not cover Netanyahu’s defense bills. 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 gifts from wealthy benefactors in Israel and abroad.

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 February, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, in that case, as well as in two others.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a farewell ceremony for outgoing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at Justice Ministry headquarters in Jerusalem on June 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The prime minister denies all the allegations. He has alleged that the investigation, the subsequent police recommendation to charge him, and Mandelblit’s subsequent decision to press charges pending a final hearing, constitute a witch hunt and a political vendetta pursued by the political opposition, the media, the police and the state prosecution.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu’s lawyer informed the attorney general that his client will attend a hearing on his three criminal cases set for October 2, after failing to convince Avichai Mandelblit to postpone it.

Netanyahu had attempted to have the meeting pushed off, citing the fresh elections slated for September 27, but Mandelblit dismissed the new vote as a justification for postponing the pre-indictment hearing, citing multiple delays by the premier’s defense team.

After Mandelblit announced in mid-February his intention to indict the prime minister, pending the hearing, on fraud and breach of trust charges in three corruption cases, and on a bribery charge in one of them, Netanyahu’s attorneys asked to freeze the process until after the April 9 election. They then refused to pick up the case files from the attorney general’s office for more than a month, saying they had not been paid for their services.

Last month, the attorney general agreed to postpone the hearing — originally scheduled for July 10 — to October 2-3. Netanyahu’s lawyers had asked for a full-year delay, arguing that the volume of evidence was too large to review in three months, but that request was rejected.

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