The High Court of Justice leveled criticism at the government’s permits committee on Wednesday, saying it failed to demand from former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invoices showing how much money he got from his cousin Nathan Milikowsky to help pay for his wife Sara’s legal defense.
The judges also criticized the conduct of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit in connection with the loans and gifts Netanyahu received.
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The remarks were made as the court heard a suit filed by the Movement for Moral Purity and the Movement for Quality Government, which are seeking a court order that Netanyahu return $300,000 he received from Milikowsky and a 2-million-shekel ($610,000) loan he took from U.S. businessman Spencer Partrich.
The permits committee had approved his taking $270,000 that Netanyahu received to help cover his wife’s legal defense costs, but demanded he return $30,000.
The plaintiffs assert that the committee erred in its interpretation of the government conflict-of-interest rules by allowing the wife of a public official to accept money at all. They also contend that Partrich’s loan was “a benefit for all intents and purposes.”
The judges asked why the committee never asked for any proof, such as an invoice, and settled instead for a simple declaration. “There are times when it’s impossible to get documentation,” said Justice Uzi Fogelman, “but from a place that customarily issues invoices, such as a law office, there is conclusive evidence.”
Representing the State Comptroller’s Office, attorney Eliya Zunz Koller said the committee had been satisfied with a written declaration by the lawyer involved, the late Jacob Weinroth. But Boaz Arad, from the Movement for Moral Purity, said, “The committee can’t rely on mere words that the funds were in fact transferred to the office of attorney Weinroth.”
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Yossi Cohen, representing Benjamin Netanyahu, told the court, “The permits committee agreed to allow the [legal defense] funding on the basis of the attorney general’s opinion and now everything is being appealed. These are lawsuits that rely on gossip rather than evidence.”
Cohen added that “the prime minister disclosed on his own and at his own initiative the matter of the receipt of $300,000, but the plaintiffs say he concealed it and that it must be inaccurate because he is the one who disclosed it. We went to the permits committee, we went to the attorney general. We did everything that was required.”
The judges criticized Mendelblit for staying mum on the state comptroller’s role in the Netanyahu loan.