Netanyahu Accuses Attorney General of 'Coup Plot' Over Refusal to to Let Tycoon Fund Legal Defense

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference in Jerusalem, June 16, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference in Jerusalem, June 16, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized on Tuesday Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit in a harshly worded tweet, accusing him of orchestrating a coup, hours after Mendelblit, who pressed charges against Netanyahu in three corruption cases, announced that he opposes the premier’s request to accept 10 million shekels (about $3 million) from U.S. businessman Spencer Partrich to fund his legal defense.

“Mendelblit’s coup plot has been exposed,” Netanyahu tweeted, alongside a screenshot of a tweet by Channel 13 News reporter Aviad Glickman, who quoted Justice Ministry officials as saying: “If Netanyahu wants a gift of 10 million shekels from his friend, he can go ahead and resign and then he can even get 20 million.”

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“Shamefully and incredibly, senior Justice Ministry officials called on Prime Minister Netanyahu to resign his post as a condition for him to defend against the baseless indictment Mendelblit cooked up against him,” Netanyahu said, referring to himself in the third person.

“Mendelblit is trying to undo the democratic decision by millions of citizens who elected Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, as well as that of 11 Supreme Court justices who ruled that Prime Minister Netanyahu can stay on. And that is what ‘senior Justice Ministry officials’ are brazenly calling ‘democracy’ and ‘the rule of law.’”

Mendelblit announced that he opposes Netanyahu's request to accept the financial support from Partrich in a legal opinion released by the Justice Ministry on Tuesday.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, a close ally of Netanyahu, dubbed Mendelblit’s decision “persecution” and said in a tweet: “It seems he prefers to be faced in court with a meagerly funded lawyer, rather than a top attorney.”

Netanyahu asked the permits committee in the State Comptroller’s Office to allow him accept the funds to help him pay for his legal defense in the three criminal cases in which he has been charged. 

The prime minister seeks to receive outside funding from his cousin Nathan Milikowsky as well as from Partrich. After convening last month, the panel asked the attorney general for his position, as Partrich is listed as a witness in one of the cases against Netanyahu.

Mendelblit's legal opinion, which was sent to the committee, said that any gift the prime minister receives is given to him as a public servant, and therefore forbidden.

There are exceptions, he wrote, which depend on the nature of the relationship between a civil servant and the benefactor, or the nature of the gift. However, Mendelblit adds, this is not the case in this particular circumstance.

Sources close to Netanyahu commented that the attorney general's opinion is scandalous, politically motivated, and reflects a legal double standard and conflict of interest. Mendelblit "has indicted the prime minster ruthlessly and is doing everything possible to sabotage the prime minister's ability to defend himself," the sources said, adding that the attorney general is intensifying his assault on Netanyahu and the right wing, using criminal means like extortion of witnesses.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, a close ally of Netanyahu, dubbed Mendelblit’s decision “persecution” and said in a tweet: “It seems he prefers to be faced in court with a meagerly funded lawyer, rather than a top attorney.”

Sources familiar with the process said that the permits committee must adopt Mendelblit's opinion and reject Netanyahu's request. The State Comptroller's position is that the committee can permit public servants to accept gifts, but cannot overturn an attorney general's ruling. 

In February, the permits committee informed Netanyahu that it will reconsider its decision denying him permission to accept the funds. The announcement followed Netanyahu’s fourth request to the committee for permission to have Partrich help him meet his legal expenses.

Netanyahu was formally indicted last month in the Jerusalem District Court in three corruption cases, in which he has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. – allegations he denies. The prime minster also claims that now that charges have been filed against him, he anticipates incurring major legal expenses to mount his defense.

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