State panel postpones decision on outside funding for PM’s legal defense

State panel postpones decision on outside funding for PM’s legal defense

Oversight committee to decide in a month on whether to approve PM’s request for help to foot his legal bills, after he missed deadline to give info on his finances

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Memorial Day ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl military cemetery on May 8, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Memorial Day ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl military cemetery on May 8, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

The State Comptroller Permits Committee agreed Thursday to postpone its decision for another month on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to use contributions from acquaintances to help foot his defense bills in a series of corruption cases he is facing.

The announcement is the latest development in an ongoing battle between Netanyahu’s attorneys and the oversight committee over the premier’s request to fund his defense with the help of overseas financiers.

The committee had given Netanyahu until the end of the week to disclose information about his personal finances before it would consider his request, but did not receive that information, the Ynet news site reported. In spite of this, the committee said that “out of consideration for the prime minister and the changes in his legal defense team, the decision was made to respond to his postponement request.”

On Wednesday, Netanyahu’s attorney Navot Tel-Zur announced to the Permits Committee that he was stepping down from the defense team in the graft cases against the premier, following disagreements in recent weeks over lack of payment.

Responsibility for the cases will be transferred exclusively to attorney Amit Hadad.

Attorney Navot Tel-Zur seen in the courtroom at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, February 9, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

On Monday, a spokesperson for Netanyahu criticized the committee, saying “the Permit Committee is preventing the prime minister from receiving financial assistance for his legal defense, as opposed to other public figures who received assistance in their defense.”

The statement claimed that Netanyahu would not be able to hire lawyers to defend himself against looming indictments for fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases, and bribery in one of them.

It also said any information given to the committee would be “leaked in a questionable and offensive manner while seriously damaging the right to privacy that the prime minister is also entitled to,” the statement said. “The prime minister has the right to defend himself against an indictment, the purpose of which is to bring down the prime minister and replace the rule in an undemocratic way.”

On Sunday Channel 13 news reported that the committee had set the deadline. The reported ultimatum came after the Permits Committee said last week that the prime minister must first provide details of his assets before it would weigh his request for financial help for a third time. The panel refused to grant his attorney a meeting to explain why information about Netanyahu’s assets should remain private.

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 him permission for donors to pay his legal fees.

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 Spencer Partrich, a billionaire from whom he has requested to receive funds to cover his legal fees.

Netanyahu had also sought to receive money for his legal defense from his cousin, US businessman Nathan Milikowsky, but recently said he was withdrawing the request, and would instead appeal for funding from Partrich.

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

Netanyahu has previously unsuccessfully sought permission from Israeli authorities for Milikowsky to fund his legal defense.

In February the Permits Committee ruled for a second time that wealthy acquaintances could not cover 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 in two others, dubbed by police Cases 2000 and 4000.

The prime minister denies all the allegations. He has alleged that the investigation, the subsequent police recommendation to charge him, and Mandelblit’s subsequent decision to press charges pending a final hearing, constitute a witch hunt and a political vendetta pursued by the political opposition, the media, the police and the state prosecution.

On Wednesday, Mandelblit said he would postpone Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearings by three months, to October 2-3.

Hadad had asked the attorney general for a full-year delay, arguing that the scope of the documents was too large to review in three months.

Mandelblit refused that request, saying it was not in the public interest.

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