State Comptroller Yosef Shapira has reportedly asked Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit to investigate whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu improperly received money to fund his legal bills in the three corruption cases in which he is suspected of receiving benefits from benefactors in return for using his office to advance their interests.
Shapira, according to a report on the Walla news site, alleges that Netanyahu received $300,000 from businessman Nathan Milikowsky to fund his legal defense without getting the necessary permission from the State Comptroller’s Office. The premier, for his part, released a statement slamming the denial of funds an effort “to prevent the prime minister from fighting for the truth.” Notably, however, he did not deny the allegation.
Last month, the State Comptroller’s Office denied Netanyahu’s request for Milikowsky, who is also his cousin, to cover his legal fees. In its decision, the Comptroller’s Permits Committee said it was inappropriate for non-Israeli benefactors to pay for the legal defense in a criminal case relating to receiving funds from wealthy benefactors.
The committee also said Netanyahu’s request failed to answer “basic questions,” including the amounts he was seeking from the donors, how much had already been contributed, and to which cases the money would be designated.
But the Haaretz daily subsequently reported that the money from Milikowsky had already been transferred to Netanyahu before the permits committee even made its decision.
Responding to the Walla report, Netanyahu said, “in the rigged game in which the media decided three years ago that Prime Minister Netanyahu is guilty until his innocence is proven, every effort is being made to prevent the prime minister from fighting for the truth.”
“For three years, the state has been operating dozens of investigators and lawyers at a cost of hundreds of millions of shekels, and now they complain to Prime Minister Netanyahu that in his attempt to defend himself against all this, he is being assisted by his cousin,” the statement continued.
“Of course, they forget to note that the Knesset Ethics Committee has already determined that it is permissible to receive financial assistance from a cousin without obtaining approval,” the prime minister concluded, referring to an internal parliamentary ruling overridden by Shapira’s decision.
Over the past year, attorneys for Netanyahu have sought permission for Milikowsky and American millionaire Spencer Partrich to pay his legal bills in three separate criminal investigations in which police have recommended he be indicted, including a probe that centers on lavish gifts from the prime minister’s billionaire friends.
Last year, both Milikowsky and Partrich were questioned by police in their investigation of Netanyahu dubbed Case 1000, in which the prime minister and his wife are suspected of receiving some NIS 1 million ($282,000) in illicit gifts from businessmen in return for certain benefits. In his testimony, Partrich admitted to police that he had bought Netanyahu a number of expensive suits but said Milikowsky paid him back for them, Haaretz reported in January.
In addition to the investigation into the gifts he received from billionaire benefactors, Netanyahu is being investigated in two other probes — cases 2000 and 4000 — involving potential quid pro quo deals for regulatory favors 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 cases.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing, and has accused police, media, and law enforcement of waging a witch hunt against him.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is currently reviewing the cases and weighing whether to announce his intention to indict Netanyahu before April’s elections, which the premier has called on him not to do. Media reports have indicated that he will announce his decision on a possible indictment, pending a hearing, in February.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.