Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is reportedly reviewing a draft opinion from the Justice Ministry regarding the opening of an investigation into a potential conflict of interest between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cousin Nathan Milikowsky, who has an ownership stake in two Israeli medical firms.
Judicial authorities fear Netanyahu could use his titular position as health minister, which he has held since November 2017, to benefit the US-based Milikowsky, according to the Calcalist website.
Netanyahu has unsuccessfully sought permission from Israeli authorities for Milikowsky to fund his legal defense in three corruption cases the prime minister is facing.
“A draft of an opinion regarding the potential conflict of interests of the Prime Minister and Health Minister in connection with this matter is currently being examined,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement to Calcalist after it inquired about Milikowsky’s holdings. “Milikowsky’s holdings in Israeli companies were reported to the attorney general in an examination conducted in recent months, following the Prime Minister’s request to receive funds from Mr. Milikowsky to finance defense expenses.”
Milikowsky holds a 3.64 percent stake in Art Medical and 8.69% of Premia Spine, according to the Calcalist report. He is also registered as director of Art Medical.
Channel 12 TV news cited a senior law enforcement official as saying “there will be no choice” but to open an investigation into whether there is a basis for a criminal investigation into the connection between Milikowsky and Netanyahu.
The probe would only begin after the coming April 9 elections.
According to Channel 12, Premia Spine is the sole supplier, exempt from tenders, for government hospitals such as Assaf Harofeh and Sheba. The contracts are said to be worth millions of shekels.
While Netanyahu is technically health minister, the role is practically filled by deputy minister Yaakov Litzman of the ultra-Orthodox UTJ party. Ultra-Orthodox politicians traditionally refuse ministerial seats on ideological grounds.
Suspicions have emerged that Netanyahu may have illicitly profited from selling to Milikowsky shares in a company with ties to a German shipbuilder Thysennkrupp. A multi-billion shekel deal for Thysennkrupp to sell Israel naval vessels and submarines is at the heart of a major graft scandal in which several figures around Netanyahu have been named, although the prime minister himself is not considered a suspect.
Netanyahu, is however, a suspect in three other corruption cases and has in the past sought permission for Milikowsky to pay the hefty legal bills involved in his defense. Last month Mandelblit said he would indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing in all three cases.
Last month the State Comptroller’s Permits Committee ruled for a second time that wealthy acquaintances could not foot Netanyahu’s defense bills in the pending corruption indictments he faces. It first turned him down in December.
The panel said it was inappropriate for non-Israeli benefactors to pay for the prime minister’s legal defense in a criminal case relating to his alleged receipt of funds from wealthy benefactors in Israel and abroad.
Apart from rejecting his two previous pleas, the committee also ruled that money Netanyahu had already received from associates was improper and ordered him to return $300,000 to Milikowsky, and to give back business attire to American millionaire Spencer Partrich.
Earlier this month the High Court of Justice ruled that Netanyahu can apply for a third time to seek permission from the Comptroller committee to receive funding from benefactors.
Milikowsky and Partrich were questioned by police last year in the investigation dubbed “Case 1000,” in which the prime minister is suspected of receiving some NIS 1 million ($282,000) in illicit gifts from businessmen.
Netanyahu is also suspected of corruption in two other probes — Cases 2000 and 4000 — involving potential quid pro quo deals for regulatory favors or beneficial legislation in exchange for positive media coverage.