Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has okayed a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept money from two witnesses in Case 1000 – the cigars-and-champagne case – to help fund his legal defense, subject to the approval of the state comptroller.
The two witnesses are tycoon Spencer Partridge and Nathan Milkowsky, who is Netanyahu’s cousin. Mendelblit determined that the requested funding doesn’t fall under the definition of a “gift,” and thus there’s no obstacle to accepting it.
Mendelblit said in a statement, “In view of the details received regarding the nature of the relations between the prime minister and Mr. Milikowsky and Mr. Partridge, and given all the relevant circumstances, the attorney general and the state prosecutor decided that it cannot be said that the gift is being given to the prime minister ‘because he is a public servant.’”
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However, Mendelblit said that to get final approval for the funding, Netanyahu must appeal to the state comptroller, who is responsible for conflicts of interest and heads the permits committee. The committee “will examine the request and decide whether it is justified under the circumstances to permit an exception to the rules, and to allow the requested funding to be received.”
The permits committee, which has two other members, is responsible for discussing requests of ministers and deputy ministers regarding money and potential conflicts of interest. In his letter, Mendelblit stressed, “The permits committee will determine whether granting the permit is justified under the circumstances and is appropriate from a public standpoint.”
The attorney general suggested that the committee set conditions for the approval, including a commitment to use the funds solely for the premier’s legal defense; that there be a cap on the amount and that there be a reporting mechanism. Mendelblit also instructed that a conflict of interest agreement be formulated that would relate to the relationship between the prime minister and Partridge and Milikowsky, and forbid the premier to deal with any issues that involve them.
Last year Partridge gave evidence in Case 1000 and was asked by police to explain the gifts he had given Netanyahu in recent years. He confirmed that he had purchased suits costing tens of thousands of shekels for the prime minister, but said Netanyahu’s cousin, American businessman Milikowsky, had returned the money to him later. Milikowsky was also called upon to give evidence after Haaretz reported that Netanyahu had claimed under questioning that he had purchased cigars using cash that he’d received from a relative.
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