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Likud rapped for paying legal fees of probed Netanyahu aides

Party funding used to cover costs of representation for, among others, Yonatan Urich and Ofer Golan as they were investigated on suspicion of intimidating state witness

(R-L) Ofer Golan, Likud campaign manager, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, digital adviser Topaz Luk, and Likud spokesman Jonatan Urich at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on March 20, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
(R-L) Ofer Golan, Likud campaign manager, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, digital adviser Topaz Luk and Likud spokesman Jonatan Urich at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on March 20, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman criticized the Likud party for paying for the legal representation of two advisers to MK Benyamin Netanyahu who are being investigated on suspicion of intimidating a state witness in the former prime minister’s corruption trial.

In a report published Sunday that examined the funding of parties in elections for the 23rd and 22nd Knesset, Englman found that Likud paid out NIS 336,000 ($104,473) for legal representation of four workers, advisers and others affiliated with the party in the framework of various criminal investigations they faced. Among them were advisers Yonatan Urich and Ofer Golan.

The two are suspected of harassing state witness Shlomo Filber, a former Likud campaign manager and longtime confidant to Netanyahu. Filber is now a key witness for the prosecution in Netanyahu’s ongoing trial in three corruption cases.

Of the total sum paid out, 96 percent went to Attorney Amit Hadad, who is also representing Netanyahu in his corruption trial, Channel 13 news reported.

Balad, an Arab party that is part of the Joint List, was also found to have paid out NIS 305,000 for representation for 36 of its workers.

Englman said that diverting party funding in such a way was making use of public funds for improper expenses. He demanded that parties formulate a proper procedure for making such payments and assess their continued justification.

Likud had claimed that it paid for the representation because the advisers were being investigated for actions they took as part of their political roles. The party also claimed that the funding was approved by the Likud legal adviser. However, the opinion was apparently only handed down some six months after contact was first made with the representing attorneys.

Englman ruled that NIS 200,000 should be deducted from Likud’s funding over various improper expenses, including the legal representation issue and not having proper documentation or receipts to determine the reasonableness of its expenses when hiring advisory services from foreign companies.

The Meretz party was to have NIS 15,000 deducted from its funding for having gone beyond permitted expenditure by one percent, and the Shas party was given a warning for expenses that were not in accordance with campaigning laws.

Israeli State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman speaks at a conference in Jerusalem, February 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Englman also criticized the sharp rise in loans parties are taking following a change in law that enabled them to get the cash from the Treasure instead of banks. Since then, the combined volume of loans rose to NIS 200 million in March 2020, an increase of 470% over loan sizes before the change in law. The ombudsman said parties now see the loans as a source of additional income and were not fulfilling the purpose of the change, which was to “maintain an ideological and organizational relationship with the public in between elections.”

He urged parties to repay their loans. At the time, Likud’s deficit was NIS 69 million, that of the Degel Hatorah party NIS 10 million, and the Labor party NIS 8 million.

Last year, Englman also lashed Likud for financial infractions in its finances.

Filber is a key witness in Case 4000, in which the prime minister is accused of advancing regulatory decisions benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in telecom giant Bezeq, in exchange for positive coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site. Filber was then director-general of the Communications Ministry, which Netanyahu headed as minister during part of the period under scrutiny by prosecutors.

Filber was arrested and questioned over his involvement in the case before turning state witness.

The Likud officials are suspected of sending a van to Filber’s home with loudspeakers, blasting allegations that he had lied about the case.

In addition to Case 4000, in which Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, he is also accused of the latter two offenses in two other cases against him.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and claims to be the victim of a witch hunt involving the opposition, the media, the police, and state prosecutors.

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