Head of Panel That Rejected PM’s Request to Seek Donations for Legal Fees Quits

Retired Judge Awni Habash says decision to resign comes after he was subjected to political pressure

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on March 10, 2019.
AFP

Retired Judge Awni Habash has resigned as head of the state comptroller’s permits committee – which ordered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pay back money funding his legal defense – saying he had been subjected to political pressure. But he refused to give names.

The committee has twice rejected Netanyahu’s request to seek donations from tycoons to fund his legal defense in the corruption cases against him.

The High Court of Justice will hear Netanyahu’s appeal on this matter Monday.

The permits committee approves or forbids cabinet members from taking actions that would put them in a conflict of interest. Netanyahu’s request involved two American businessmen, his cousin Nathan Milikowsky and Spencer Partrich, who had testified in the so-called lavish-gifts case.

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Unless Netanyahu can convince the authorities otherwise in a hearing process whose launch date has not yet been set, he is to be indicted in three separate corruption cases.

In a ruling in December, the permits committee said it was unseemly for tycoons to finance legal expenses stemming from a criminal investigation related to tycoons. “This could undermine public trust in the integrity of government officials,” the committee said.

Last month Netanyahu again asked the committee for permission to raise $2 million; it turned out that Netanyahu had already received $300,000 from Milikowksy without permission, and that he still owed hundreds of thousands of shekels to lawyers.

On Thursday, the permits committee sharply criticized Netanyahu, writing that he probably “didn’t bother to pay even one shekel out of his pocket to fund his own legal defense.”

The committee also took Netanyahu to task for not answering its questions; it asked about the total amount he needed to fund his legal fees, if he had paid anything himself so far, and how much more he could afford to pay.

The committee said Netanyahu answered “with extreme brevity” when asked detailed questions about his relationship with Milikowsky and Partrich.

Issues included the dates of his meetings with the two tycoons as well as the gifts and favors he received. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and justices Neal Hendel and Menachem Mazuz will hear the case.

In Netanyahu’s petition last week against the rejection of his request to have Milikowsky and Partrich fund his legal defense, he said he would take a “commercial loan” from the two.

According to the prime minster, he was taking “steps to take out the commercial loan at market conditions and against a guarantee for immediate urgent funding.” Netanyahu said his attorneys needed to be paid if they were going to continue.

The committee wrote in response, “It cannot be denied that the question of the scope of the expected legal expenses, how much the petitioner can pay, how much he has already paid out of pocket and why he needs assistance are extremely relevant questions regarding public propriety.”