Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Sunday that the Permits Committee at the State Comptroller’s Office should check whether it was legal for Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, to accept financial aid from the premier’s cousin to cover the costs of her attorneys in a criminal case against her.
In a statement to the High Court of Justice, Mandelblit questioned whether Sara Netanyahu’s acceptance of $270,000 from Nathan Milikowsky was tantamount to an unlawful, indirect gift to the prime minister, and said it should be investigated.
In response, a statement from “associates” of the prime minister said Mandelblit had “lost all restraint” and has “decided to topple the prime minister at any cost and is charging at him like a train with no brakes.”
The statement called Mandelblit’s reasoning “baseless” and alleged that his decisions over the past years have been “rife with contradictions” and always went against the premier.
Earlier this month, the Permits Committee forced Netanyahu to return $30,000 received from Milikowsky to fund his own legal defense in the three corruption cases he is accused in.
In that case, Mandelblit had told the committee he opposed Netanyahu’s request to approve the payment, saying the donation was tantamount to an illicit gift.
He made similar arguments about an NIS 10 million ($2.9 million) donation from Spencer Partrich, a Michigan-based real estate magnate, to Netanyahu. The committee had asked Mandelblit for his opinion on the matter because Partrich also happens to be a witness in one of the cases against the premier.
The Permits Committee subsequently ordered Netanyahu to return the money. In a letter sent to Netanyahu’s attorneys earlier this month, committee secretary Eden Bizman said that “given that the attorney general has ruled that the prime minister should not receive funding for his legal defense from Mr. Spencer Partrich, as a witness in the indictment, [given] the amount requested, and considering the nature of the relationship between the prime minister and Mr. Partrich, the request does not meet the rules for receiving a gift in accordance with the Gift Law.”
Until several months ago, Netanyahu hadn’t targeted Mandelblit himself, his former close associate, when criticizing the justice system over the cases against him, but would only characterize him as a weak-willed bureaucrat who was succumbing to pressure by police, prosecutors and the media.
But after Mandelblit decided to indict him, Netanyahu has been directing his vitriol at the attorney general far more directly. Last month he launched a scathing, unprecedented attack against the attorney general, accusing him of being part of a deep-state conspiracy scheme aiming to oust him for political reasons.
Netanyahu was slammed by his rivals over the accusations, which he made in a series of tweets and retweets, and a watchdog said it would file a police complaint for incitement.
“Mandelblit’s scheme to topple the leadership is exposed in all its ugliness,” Netanyahu tweeted. “Mandelblit is trying to reverse the democratic decision of millions of citizens who elected Benjamin Netanyahu prime minister.”
Netanyahu’s trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes opened in May in a Jerusalem court. The accusations include accepting some $200,000 in gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires, Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.
The prime minister is also accused of offering to push legislation benefiting powerful Israeli media moguls in exchange for more positive coverage in their publications. Netanyahu has said he is the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy and called the allegations baseless, saying accepting gifts from friends isn’t a problem.
Netanyahu is widely believed to be a multimillionaire, thanks to best-selling books, real estate holdings and lucrative speaking fees while in the private sector.
He has for decades socialized with the ultra-wealthy and his supporters say he has given up opportunities to amass great wealth to serve the country instead. But he and his wife have gained a reputation for enjoying the good life, repeatedly landing in hot water for misappropriating state funds.
In June 2019, Sara Netanyahu was convicted of misusing public funds as part of a plea deal in a case involving allegations she illegally procured and then misreported catering services at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
The agreement saw her escape a conviction for aggravated fraud, but plead guilty to a lesser charge of taking advantage of a mistake. She was ordered to pay NIS 55,000 ($15,210) to the state — NIS 10,000 as a fine and the rest as restitution.
She is currently involved in several other legal cases involving allegations by former employees at the Prime Minister’s Residence who say she mistreated them. She has sued some for libel.