Netanyahu Given 30 Days to Prove He Returned Money to Cousin for Legal Defense

Haaretz obtains permits committee document stating that he only had to repay a tenth of the $300,000 he was gifted after proving the rest was used for wife’s legal defense

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference with the U.S. special envoy for Iran in Jerusalem, June 30, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference with the U.S. special envoy for Iran in Jerusalem, June 30, 2020.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The permits committee in the State Comptroller’s Office has given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 30 days to show proof that he has repaid $30,000 to his cousin, Nathan Milikowsky, which he had received without authorization, according to a document Haaretz has obtained.

The permits committee announced Thursday that Netanyahu would only have to repay $30,000 out of $300,000 he had received from Milikowsky, because most of the money had been used to cover Sara Netanyahu’s legal defense, and she is considered a private citizen. According to the document, the committee reached its conclusion based on a declaration submitted in August by attorney Yehiel Weinrot, citing details of the income of his father’s firm, the late Yaakov Weinrot, who had been Netanyahu’s attorney.

Milikowsky paid Weinrot’s firm $300,000 in three installments – on March 16, 2017, November 12, 2017 and March 29, 2018, according to the declaration. “The sum of 110,000 shekels (including VAT) paid for the legal [assistance] to Mr. Netanyahu,” The document states, citing an amount worth approximately $32,000. “The rest of the payments were for representing Mrs. Netanyahu, both in preparation for questioning and during the hearing,” referring to the case of suspected misuse of public funds in the Netanyahus’ residences.

The document written by the committee members – chairwoman and retired judge Nechama Zimmerling Munitz, retired judge Shulamit Dotan and Yisrael Tik, explains “Mrs. Netanyahu is not a member of the government and therefore rule 6 of the authorization rules does not apply to her.” The government had set these rules to prevent conflicts of interests among ministers and deputy ministers regarding the receipt of benefits.

Two months ago, the High Court of Justice heard a petition submitted by two NGOs, the Movement for Quality Government and TLM – Anti-corruption Movement, demanding that Netanyahu return the entire sum he had received from his cousin. Now the High Court will focus on the rest of the sum that the petitioners say Netanyahu should also repay.

The committee decided that the prime minister had to return the monetary value of suits Milikowsky had paid for, thus confirming the permits committee decision of February 2019. According to that decision, the Prime Minister’s Office comptroller, Itzik Davidyan, will calculate the cost of the suits, and the PMO’s legal adviser, Shlomit Barnea Farrago will set a timetable for returning the money. Unlike their decision regarding the repayment of money for legal representation, the permits committee does not require Netanyahu to prove that he paid his cousin back for the suits, and made Barnea Farrago responsible for the matter.

In 2017, when American millionaire Spencer Partrich, who is close to Netanyahu, testified to the police regarding gifts he had given to Netanyahu, Partrich confirmed that he had purchased suits for the prime minister to the tune of tens of thousands of shekels. However, Partrich said that Milikowsky had paid him back. Milikowsky himself was called in to testify in the affair after Netanyahu claimed during questioning that he had purchased cigars with cash he had received from a relative.

The permits committee announced on Thursday that it would not discuss Netanyahu’s request to accept 10 million shekels from Partrich to help fund the legal defense in his corruption trial. The committee said it had relied in its decision on the legal opinion by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit that the amount requested was higher than allowed by the law governing gifts to public servants.

The attorney general's opinion stated that any gift the prime minister receives is given to him as a public servant, and is therefore forbidden. There are exceptions to this rule, he wrote, which depend on the nature of the relationship between a public servant and the benefactor, or the nature of the gift. In this case, Mendelblit wrote: “It cannot be determined that the receipt of this sum to the prime minister from Mr. Partrich is not a gift to him in his role as a public servant.”

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