Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Wednesday that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu should return a total of $900,000 to two US businessmen who gave him the money while he was serving as premier.
According to Mandelblit, Netanyahu should give back $300,000 to the estate of his late cousin and benefactor, businessman Nathan Milikowsky, and $600,000 to real-estate mogul Spencer Partrich.
His legal opinion was submitted to the High Court of Justice as part of a petition on the issue filed by good governance groups.
Netanyahu accepted money from Milikowsky — who died in July — and Partrich while serving as prime minister. He has said that it was for legal fees in cases being brought against him and his family, including one case in which he is accused of receiving illicit gifts.
In July, the High Court ordered Mandelblit, the State Comptroller’s Permits Committee and Netanyahu to explain why the money was not an illicit gift, and why he should not be ordered to return it in full.
Specifically, the court said the parties must explain why a Permits Committee decision requiring Netanyahu to only return $30,000 of the total funds from Milikowsky should not be annulled. The committee decided in 2019 that Netanyahu does not have to return the rest of the money on the grounds that it was used in the legal defense of his wife, Sara Netanyahu.
“The funds that Netanyahu received from Milikowski are a ‘forbidden gift,’ and Netanyahu must return them,” Mandelblit wrote in his response.
Netanyahu, who is now Knesset opposition leader, 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.
Milikowsky and Partrich were questioned by police in the investigation, known as Case 1000, in which the prime minister is suspected of receiving some NIS 1 million ($282,000), most of it in cigars and champagne. Netanyahu reportedly claimed that some of the cigars he was alleged to have received he bought with his own money, while others he purchased with cash given to him by Milikowsky.
In October, Mandelblit closed an investigation into suspicions that Netanyahu illicitly made several million dollars from selling shares in a graphite company to Milikowsky.
Mandelblit has acknowledged that the premier may have received significant benefits from his cousin in the affair, but said it was not clear he did so knowingly. He has also noted that the statute of limitations has long expired for the potential suspicions of fraud and breach of trust in the 2007 case.
But in his opinion Wednesday, Mandelblit said that the affair proved Netanyahu’s relationship with Milikowsky went beyond friendship and the $300,000 could therefore not be seen as a legitimate “gift from a friend,” as Netanyahu has claimed.
Mandelblit also said the “gift” of $600,000 given to Netanyahu by Partrich should be returned.
“The so-called loan that Netanyahu received from Partrich in the amount of NIS 2 million is also a prohibited gift, since it has a clear potential to become an [illicit] gift,” Mandelblit wrote.
In June, Netanyahu repaid some NIS 25,000 ($7,685) to Partrich for cigars he had received, after being ordered to do so by the state auditor.
According to a Haaretz report, Partrich, known to have been close to Netanyahu for many years, bought in 2016 half of the then-premier’s Jerusalem childhood home from his younger brother Ido, essentially becoming Netanyahu’s business partner in a deal brokered by Netanyahu’s lawyer David Shimron.
Netanyahu has denied all the charges in all of the cases being brought against him.