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Netanyahu asks High Court to rethink order to return late cousin’s $270,000 gift

Justices ruled in October that he couldn’t keep money given by Nathan Milikowsky to cover legal fees, but presumptive incoming PM’s lawyer claims it’s not up to them

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu (center) seen after coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem on November 16, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu (center) seen after coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem on November 16, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Presumptive incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested on Monday an additional hearing at the High Court of Justice after it ordered him last month to return $270,000 to the estate of his deceased cousin and former benefactor Nathan Milikowsky, ruling that the funds were an illicit gift.

The court determined that money received by Netanyahu and his wife Sara to fund their legal fees while he served as prime minister was a forbidden gift to a public servant.

The justices ruled that although Milikowsky and Netanyahu were cousins, business interests were a more dominant factor in the reason for the gift, and the money went way beyond what was acceptable as a routine gift between family members.

In his response Monday, Netanyahu’s attorney Uriel Nizri claimed the court did not have the authority to make such a ruling and requested that the matter be handled by the State Comptroller’s Permits Committee.

“The High Court’s ruling to return the funds is against the law. There was no procedure at all in the relevant committee. Again — a personal and precedential judgment especially for Netanyahu,” he said.

Justices also ruled in October that a NIS 2 million ($566,000) loan Netanyahu received from real estate mogul Spencer Partrich was a forbidden gift, but could be repaid according to their agreement, with supervision from the state comptroller, since the loan had been approved by the comptroller and attorney general.

File: Nathan Milikowsky in 2013, in San Francisco (Drew Altizer Photography)

In November 2021, then-attorney general Avichai Mandelblit said that Netanyahu should return a total of $900,000 to the two businessmen ($300,000 to Milikowsky and $600,000 to Partrich), after a High Court ruling in July of that year ordered Mandelblit, the State Comptroller’s Permits Committee and the then-opposition leader to explain why the money he received from Milikowsky was not an illicit gift, and why he should not be ordered to return it in full.

The Permits Committee decided in 2019 that Netanyahu only had to return $30,000 of the money from Milikowsky but not the rest on the grounds that it was used in the legal defense of his wife.

In another case, the “stock affair,” closed by Mandelblit in October 2020, it was alleged Netanyahu illicitly earned several million dollars from selling shares in a company to Milikowsky. The then-attorney general’s office had been looking into the claims for nearly 18 months after TV reports claimed Netanyahu made a suspicious return of over 700 percent on stocks he held in Seadrift Coke.

Mandelblit acknowledged that Netanyahu may have received significant benefits from his cousin in the 2007 affair but says it is not clear he did so knowingly. He also noted that the statute of limitations had long expired for the potential suspicions of fraud and breach of trust.

According to a Haaretz report, Partrich, known to have been close to Netanyahu for many years, bought half of the then-premier’s Jerusalem childhood home in 2016 from his younger brother Ido, essentially becoming Netanyahu’s business partner in a deal brokered by Netanyahu’s lawyer David Shimron.

Netanyahu, who is currently tasked by President Isaac Herzog with forming a government, faces fraud and breach of trust charges in a case involving illicit gifts received from other wealthy benefactors, one of three criminal cases he is currently on trial for.

Netanyahu has denied all the charges in all of the cases in which he was indicted.

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