Netanyahu accuses left of denying him the right to a legal defense
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Netanyahu accuses left of denying him the right to a legal defense

PM says his opponents are working ‘to deny me the basic right to pay for my legal defense against an army of investigators and prosecutors’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement after a meeting of his ruling Likud party in Ramat Gan on February 21, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement after a meeting of his ruling Likud party in Ramat Gan on February 21, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday lashed out at “the left,” accusing it of not only applying pressure to have him indicted for corruption, but also trying to prevent him from paying for his legal defense in the graft cases he is facing.

Speaking hours after a State Comptroller committee rejected a request he had made to allow wealthy acquaintances to fund his legal bills, Netanyahu also urged voters to support his Likud party to prevent a leftist government being formed after the April 9 Knesset elections.

“The left wants to beat us in the elections in order to establish a [Yair] Lapid-[Benny] Gantz government supported by a bloc of Arab parties,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page, repeating a charge he has frequently lobbed at the Blue and White party leaders.

“In order to achieve that, they are pressuring the attorney general to file an indictment against me at any price, and before the elections. They are pressuring to file an indictment for corruption because of two and half articles on the internet,” he said, downplaying allegations he pushed regulation benefiting the majority shareholder of Bezeq telecom in exchange for favorable coverage from his Walla news site.

Addressing the State Comptroller’s decision to ban him from receiving outside funding for his legal bills from a pair of benefactors, Netanyahu said he was being deprived of a “basic right” and put at a significant material disadvantage.

“They are even working to deny me the basic right to pay for my legal defense against an army of investigators and prosecutors who are working against me 24/7 at the cost of a quarter of a billion shekels to the taxpayer,” he said.

Blue and White party leaders Benny Gantz, left, and Yair Lapid, right, at the new alliance’s unveiling in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“In the meantime, it seems the pressure from the left is succeeding,” Netanyahu added, imploring Israeli voters to back Likud.

“I need you, because only a large Likud will prevent a leftist government,” he said.

The Facebook post comes after Netanyahu’s lawyers said the premier does not intend to accept the decision to ban outside funding from associates for his legal defense.

In its decision, the State Comptroller’s Permits Committee also ruled that funds already received from Netanyahu’s associates were inappropriate, and that he would have to return $300,000 to his cousin, Nathan Milikowsky, as well as give back business attire donated by American millionaire Spencer Partrich.

Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu’s Likud party slammed the committee’s ruling as “outrageous and one-sided, directed solely against Prime Minister Netanyahu.” In a statement, the party said, “Prime Minister Netanyahu will turn to the High Court of Justice against this scandalous decision.”

After State Comptroller Yosef Shapira’s office in December denied Netanyahu’s request for permission to have businessman Milikowsky, who is based in the US, and Partrich cover his legal fees, the premier’s legal defense team last month filed a renewed request to receive a million dollars in a first phase and $2 million later on. Netanyahu also reportedly said he would pay $100,000 out of pocket to help fund his legal defense.

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

In one of the cases against him, the prime minister is suspected of receiving benefits from rich benefactors in return for using his offices to advance their interests. In its December decision, the State Comptroller’s Permits Committee said it was inappropriate for non-Israeli benefactors to pay for legal defense in a criminal case relating to receiving funds from wealthy benefactors.

In addition to the investigation into the gifts he received from billionaire benefactors, Netanyahu is being investigated in two other probes involving potential quid pro quo deals for regulatory favors or beneficial legislation in exchange for positive media coverage. Police have recommended that he be indicted for bribery in all three cases, a charge that state prosecutors reportedly also favor in at least one of the affairs.

Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing, and has accused the media, the left, and law enforcement officials of waging a witch hunt against him.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Israel’s top legal officer, is expected to publish his conclusions on the three cases within the coming week, after rejecting the prime minister’s demand that any decision to indict be postponed until after Israel’s April 9 elections. Even if Mandelblit announces his intention to indict the premier, Netanyahu will first receive a hearing process that could take months.

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