AG’s representative warns of graft risk from bill to let officials keep gifts for legal fees

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

A Likud-sponsored bill to let public servants keep money gifted to cover their medical and legal fees “opens the door to corruption in the entire public service,” warns a representative for the attorney general.

Oren Fono, a senior official in the Legal Counsel and Legislative Affairs Department, tells the Knesset House Committee preparing the bill that it could cause “situations in which a public servant will receive favors because he is a public servant and will create dependence between public servants and their donors.”

Additionally, “a mechanism will be created that can be misused to disguise criminal offenses.” Fono points out that public servants may already accept such gifts from friends and family, provided that they do not take them in their capacities as public servants.

Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afek echoes these concerns, saying the proposal is “liable to create an inherent conflict of interest for Knesset members” and despite recent changes, “still constitutes a deviation from maintaining integrity.” Afek says that the bill may lead to “breaking down of the fortified wall behind which, until now, the legislature has fenced off the public’s trust.”

Tying the bill to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to retain a $270,000 gift from his late cousin for legal expenses amid his ongoing trial on graft charges, Fono further adds “the speed with which the bill is being advanced raises concerns that it is intended to benefit the prime minister personally.”

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