Netanyahu’s lawyers, Permits Committee in standoff over funding of legal defense

Oversight group says PM needs to declare assets and explain ties to a foreign businessman before they will again consider his request to allow him to seek help covering expenses

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the Israel Prize ceremony in Jerusalem, on Israel's 71st Independence Day, May 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the Israel Prize ceremony in Jerusalem, on Israel's 71st Independence Day, May 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A standoff between a key oversight committee and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers continued Sunday over their refusal to grant him permission to secure funding for his defense in corruption cases from wealthy foreign benefactors.

The Permits Committee in the State Comptroller’s Office stressed that Netanyahu must first provide details of his assets before it will consider his request for a third time and refused to grant his attorney a meeting to explain why the assets should remain private.

While the committee declared in a statement that it will hold no meetings on the matter of funding until it has the details of Netanyahu’s assets in Israel and abroad, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira urged the committee members to meet with Netanyahu’s attorney Navot Tel-Zur in order to avoid the matter being decided by the High Court.

Shapiro’s opinion is not binding on the committee.

The wrangling came after earlier Netanyahu said he was withdrawing his request to receive funding for his legal defense from his cousin, US businessman Nathan Milikowsky, and would instead appeal for funding from billionaire Spencer Partrich, as well as another donor.

In its statement, the Permits Committee said that it expects the prime minister to first comply with a High Court decision from March in which Netanyahu agreed to provide any details the committee requested. Netanyahu had appealed to the High Court after the committee, for the second time, refused to grant permission for donors to pay his legal fees in the corruption cases.

“The Committee is aware of the urgency required for the completion of the supplementary hearing, but again wishes to clarify that so long as the applicant maintains his refusal to hand over the full details requested of him, no further meeting will be scheduled in this case,” the committee said Sunday.

Spencer Partrich (Courtesy)

Earlier Netanyahu’s defense team said it would not comply with the committee request to hand over a declaration of assets as well as the full details of the relationship between Netanyahu and Partrich.

Netanyahu has previously unsuccessfully sought permission from Israeli authorities for Milikowsky to fund his legal defense in the three corruption cases the prime minister is facing.

In February the Permits Committee ruled for a second time that wealthy acquaintances could not foot Netanyahu’s defense bills. 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  gifts from wealthy benefactors in Israel and abroad.

The committee also ruled that money Netanyahu had already received from associates for his legal defense was improper and ordered him to return $300,000 to Milikowsky, and to give back business attire to Partrich.

The committee demanded that Netanyahu exhaust his own means of funding his defense before seeking financial help elsewhere.

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.

In February, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, in that case, as well as two others, dubbed by police as cases 2000 and 4000. The prime minister denies all the allegations.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s lawyers continued their maneuverings over the case files, which they have to review pending a hearing.

Mandelblit on Sunday criticized Netanyahu’s attorneys for requesting a delay in the pre-indictment hearing while failing to pick up or accept the legal documents for more than a month.

They have yet to collect the case files, made available to them on April 10. The attorneys have said they have delayed collecting the material because of unresolved issues regarding their legal fees.

On Sunday, the Justice Ministry said it had sent a courier to deliver the documents directly to the office of Netanyahu’s attorney Tel-Zur, but the office staff refused to receive it.

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