Benjamin Netanyahu and his family owe at least 1.5 million shekels ($434,000) to some of their current and former defense lawyers in the clutch of corruption cases against the prime minister, a Haaretz investigation shows.
The prime minister and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, owe Yossi Cohen, who has represented them for years, more than 1 million shekels. A spokesperson for Netanyahu insisted the attorneys will be paid.
Cohen has represented the Netanyahus for years in many criminal and civil cases including the misuse-of-funds case against Sara Netanyahu, the Bezeq-Walla news-for-favors case and multiple libel suits filed by the Netanyahus and their two sons against journalists.
Last February, Navot Tel-Zur, then the head of Netanyahu’s defense team, asked the state comptroller’s office to let the prime minister accept donations from businessmen to pay for his legal expenses.
In his letter, Tel-Zur mentioned an unpaid bill of 50,000 shekels plus value-added tax to Keren Shapira-Ettinger. Sources say she is still waiting to be paid.
Other lawyers mentioned in Tel-Zur’s letter are in the same situation. They include Eyal Cohen and Yaron Kosteliz, both of whom represented Netanyahu for a number of months in 2018. In Kosteliz’s case, the bill is for around 135,000 shekels.
Nor has Tel-Zur himself been paid. He and the members of his team, Pinhas Rubin and Tal Shapira, completed their work for Netanyahu in May and submitted bills estimated at above 200,000 shekels. None of the three has been paid.
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All the lawyers still awaiting payment from the Netanyahus declined to comment on the matter, though one said that this was the first time in his career that a client had not paid his bill. Another attorney said of his of his work for the prime minister: “When you go to a movie, you pay for the ticket.”
Netanyahu’s request for permission to accept $2 million was denied, but State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman, with the approval of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, allowed him to borrow that amount from businessman Spencer Partrich to pay his current lawyers Yossi Ashkenazi and Amit Hadad.
Netanyahu also hired lawyers for short-term assignments. One of these was Ram Caspi, whose clients have included former prime ministers Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, as well as leading business figures. Caspi, who advised Netanyahu’s lawyers during their preparations for the pre-indictment hearing in September, expressed to some of his colleagues opposition regarding Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution. He declined to comment on the cases.
Netanyahu also consulted with former Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. Weinstein and the late Jacob Weinroth represented the Netanyahus in a graft investigation that was closed due to a lack of evidence. The warm relations between Weinstein and Netanyahu cooled when Weinstein approved the questioning of Sara Netanyahu as a criminal suspect in the case of misused funds at the prime minister’s residence.
In June 2018, Yehuda Weinstein was questioned at his home in Herzliya Pituah by the police’s fraud squad as part of the investigation into allegations that Netanyahu had accepted illegal gifts from businessmen. Weinstein said he did not tell the prime minister that he was permitted to receive expensive gifts from friends, as Netanyahu had implied in one of his sessions with police interrogators.
A few months ago, Netanyahu renewed his ties with Weinstein. The lawyer, who appears on the list of prosecution witnesses in the cases against the prime minister, recommended to his former client that he add Ashkenazi and another lawyer, Ron Dror, to his defense team. Since retiring from public service, Weinstein has worked in Dror’s law firm, in which his daughter Karin is a partner.
Sources told Haaretz that Netanyahu plans to reshuffle his defense team if the Knesset House Committee rejects his bid for immunity from prosecution and the cases against him go to trial. Close associates of the prime minister have said Ashkenazi is unlikely to continue to represent Netanyahu, who in any event plans to add another criminal defense lawyer to his team.
A spokesperson for the prime minister replied that "Without addressing the errors and distortions presented in the article, the attorneys' fees will be paid."