Netanyahu Didn’t Pay 'One Shekel Out of His Pocket' for Legal Fees, Says State Watchdog Committee

In response to prime minister’s petition against decision not to allow him to fund legal defense with donations from associates, committee in State Comptroller’s Office says Netanyahu failed to answer key questions regarding plea

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

The permits committee in Israel’s State Comptroller’s Office on Thursday sharply criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, writing that he likely “didn’t bother to pay even one shekel out of his pocket to fund his own legal defense.”

The committee filed its response to Netanyahu’s petition to the High Court of Justice against its decision not to allow him to accept millions of dollars from two close associates to fund his legal defense ahead of a hearing scheduled for Monday.

The committee also took Netanyahu to task for not answering its questions, among them what was the total amount he needed to fund his legal fees, has he paid anything out of his pocket so far and how much more he can afford to pay himself. Additionally, the committee wrote that Netanyahu answered “with extreme brevity” detailed questions about the character of his relations with the associates, his cousin Nathan Milikowsky and tycoon Spencer Partrich.

Questions included the dates of his meetings with them as well as gifts and favors he received from them. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and justices Neil Hendel and Menachem Mazuz will hear the case.

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Netanyahu petition this week against rejecting his request to have Milikowsky and Partrich fund his legal defense claimed he would take a “commercial loan” from the two.

According to the prime minster, he started to take “immediate steps to take out the commercial loan at market conditions and against a guarantee for immediate urgent funding.”

In his appeal, Netanyahu explained that his attorneys conditioned their continued handling of the hearing on his arranging their fees.

The committee wrote in response that “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." 

Additionally, the committee rejected Netanyahu’s claim that it reviewed his capital assets declaration, which he submitted to the state comptroller. The response indicates that its statements about Netanyahu being rich were based on things said in an internal hearing, most likely by the late attorney Yaakov Weinrot. The committee attacked Netanyahu for not submitting himself the last capital assets declaration he filled out, in which he was also supposed to report the money he had received from Milikowsky. “Yet he didn’t do that!” the committee wrote.

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In January it was revealed that Netanyahu had already received $300,000 from his cousin Milikowsky without permission. Last month, the committee ruled that the prime minister had to return this sum as well as suits he received from Partrich. Regarding Milikowsky, the committee relied on a previous request Netanyahu had submitted in 2009, which indicated that the two were partners in a business corporation dealing with surplus steel. Netanyahu’s form showed that the amount requested, $2 million, had to do with expenses that had accumulated to date for legal counsel during his investigations and not funds needed to prepare for the hearing.

Netanyahu’s petition argues that the committee had no authority to reject his request and that the scope of cases do not allow him to fund his legal defense alone. It added that the decision not to allow him to receive financial assistance to fund his defense “from one of the people closest to him, a first cousin and a close personal friend who lives abroad, about whom there is no palpable suspicion of a conflict of interests,” is most disproportionate and unreasonable.

The committee members concluded that “Netanyahu needs to prove he exhausted his self-funding capabilities before asking for donations.” Forbes Magazine estimated Netanyahu’s wealth to be 50 million shekels ($14 million) in a report last month. “We cannot accept a model of ‘donations first’ and then participation in the funding. The committee has ruled for the opposite principle.” They also remarked that it was their second time deciding, despite the absence of any right of appeal on the initial decision.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira commented on Thursday regarding the committee’s refusal to allow Netanyahu’s lawyers to argue their claims orally. He repeated his position to the High Court that it would have been proper to have allowed them to do so, but that only the committee members and not him have the authority to decide on the matter.

State Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit did not comment about the committee’s decision.

He did remark that he had not been a party to the committee’s decision not to hear Netanyahu’s lawyers, but that the committee based its decision on data or assumptions that were not presented to the lawyers and did not let them discuss them. “The committee in such a case should have allowed discussion on the issue being debated before it, in a manner that it found proper."