Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit told the High Court of Justice Tuesday that $300,000 which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received several years ago from his wealthy cousin Nathan Milikowsky is an illicit gift, reversing a position he voiced two years ago in light of new information about the business ties between the men.
Mandelblit previously said the transfer was legitimate but had failed to get an okay from the State Comptroller’s Permits Committee.
The about-face means Netanyahu will have to return $270,000 of the sum. The Permits Committee has previously ordered the premier to return $30,000 which weren’t used for any purpose, while the rest was used to fund the legal defense of Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife.
Netanyahu faces fraud and breach of trust charges in a case involving illicit gifts received from other wealthy benefactors. Milikowsky was reportedly questioned by police in the investigation, known as Case 1000, in which the prime minister is suspected of receiving some NIS 1 million ($282,000), most of it in cigars and champagne. Netanyahu reportedly claimed that some of the cigars he was alleged to have received he bought with his own money, while others he purchased with cash given to him by Milikowsky.
The prime minister also faces fraud and breach of trust charges in two more cases involving handing regulatory benefits in exchange for favorable media coverage, as well as bribery charges in one of them.
A separate case known as the “stock affair” was closed by Mandelblit in October. 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.
In the new decision, Mandelblit wrote that while Netanyahu and Milikowsky are relatives and friends, the stock affair revealed deeper-than-thought business ties between them that require a rethink of the previous ruling.
Likud responded to Tuesday’s development by accusing Mandelblit of trying to “meddle” in the March 23 Knesset elections.
“In the previous election Mandelblit filed a tailor-made indictment against the prime minister, and in these elections, he reverses his legal opinion while hurting the prime minister’s defense, just because the cases are collapsing. There is no limit to the persecution and witch-hunt aiming to oust a strong right-wing prime minister,” Likud said.
Mandelblit is a Netanyahu appointee and former ally who previously served as his cabinet secretary.