Netanyahu Says He Asked Friends for Loans to Fund Legal Defense as He Appeals Ban

Readying for hearing in corruption cases, the PM told Israel's top court previous 'populist' decision to hold funds from tycoon friends is 'unreasonable'

File photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, March 10, 2019.
Gali Tibbon/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday he would take a "commercial loan" from businessmen Spencer Partrich and Nathan Milikowsky, as he petitioned to the High Court of Justice to allow him accept donations to fund his legal defense in the criminal investigations pending against him.

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In his appeal, Netanyahu accused the state comptroller's permits committee of bowing to populism in its decision to ban funding from tycoon friends and said his lawyers stipulated resolving their fees before continuing to prepare for the prime minister's hearing with the attorney general, expected to be held in the upcoming months to decide whether he will be indicted him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges.

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In February, the permits committee refused Netanyahu's request for the second time, ruling that the prime minister should return the $300,000 he already received from Milikowsky, his cousin, without permission. The committee also ruled that Netanyahu had to return suits given to him by Michigan businessman Partrich or return their cash value.

The permits committee had no authority to deny his request, Netanyahu's appeal claims. The committee's decision had been based on a means test – Netanyahu's ability to fund the defense – while it should have looked only at the test of conflict of interest, says the appeal. The appeal also said the committee relied on outdated statements.

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The prime minister also claimed in his appeal that the sheer extent of the cases against him precludes financing his legal defense by himself. He called the committee's decision "unreasonable," saying Milikowsky and Partrich don't reside in Israel and are "close" to him, and therefore there shouldn't be any concern over a possible conflict of interest in receiving donations from them.

The panel noted that the prime minister is an affluent man. "Therefore, he must prove that he had exhausted his ability to bear the costs himself before seeking donations," it said. According to the Forbes Israel rankings, in February Netanyahu’s wealth was estimated at 50 million shekels ($13.8 million).

As for Netanyahu's undertaking to help pay for his defense, the committee wrote that it couldn't accept a model of "donations first" and only then co-payment; in the past, it said, the committee had laid down a principle specifying the primary payment would be covered by a suspect.

The prime minister's request to the permits committee indicates that he already owes lawyers, past and present, hundreds of thousands of shekels in fees and reimbursement of costs.

The appeal also said that the committee was undermining Netanyahu's right to a fair process. The committee's decision "undermines the underlying principles of the system" and was "unreasonable in the extreme," the appeal said.

"These are 'monstrous' cases, as the court put it, which have been investigated by the authorities for over two years," Netanyahu's lawyers said in the appeal. "Against this serious, unprecedented campaign, stands a sole person, alone, flesh and blood, who is required to raise massive resources, as well as mental means, to prove his innocence."